When Michigan hired Warde Manuel in 2016, he became the third active Black athletic director in the Big Ten.
According to the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, there were just 14 Black athletic directors among 130 FBS universities in 2019.
Manuel is among that 9.2%.
In wake of the ongoing protests against racial injustice and police brutality, Manuel recognizes it’s a “tough time” for society, but he’s hopeful for reform.
He stands by his players, such as defensive end Kwity Paye, in their efforts to bring about change through the Black Lives Matter movement.
“It has been a tough time for all of us as we deal with both the coronavirus and the planning that needs to take place,” Manuel said, “as well as the social unrest given what happened to George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, Breonna Taylor and others. Very difficult times for us all, difficult times for our student-athletes, and we will continue to go through it.”
Most of the 12 respondents to the Free Press’ informal survey of in-state college football programs said they supported players protesting against racism and police brutality. One athletic director, Wayne State’s Rob Fournier, said athletes represent a “university and not themselves,” but his statement was refuted by university president M. Roy Wilson.
U-M’s response came through spokesperson David Ablauf, who said: “We support our coaches, staff and players as they respectfully and peacefully express their views on social issues affecting our country. We do not have a policy or set guidelines regarding the national anthem.”
[ Kwity Paye sounds off on police brutality: Being black ‘seen as illegal’ ]
But Manuel got the chance to speak for himself Thursday during a conference call about U-M’s plan to bring student-athletes back to campus for voluntary workouts.
Manuel wants to make it clear: All players are allowed to use their voices and actions to make an impact.
Earlier this month, football coach Jim Harbaugh marched in an Ann Arbor protest after speaking out about Floyd’s death, which caused him to become “really, really upset.” Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, now charged with second-degree murder, knelt on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, leading to Floyd’s death on May 25.
Harbaugh called the situation “completely outrageous” and “very horrendous.”
[ Harbaugh attends anti-police brutality march in Ann Arbor ]
Manuel said the entire athletic department — including coaches — deeply respects players who utilize their platform to make a difference in the fight against racism and injustice.
“In this time, many of our Black student-athletes are hurting,” he said. “I’m hurting as a Black man, and it is something that we’re going to continue to work toward and fix and make better in our society.
“I have made sure that they understand that I want them to be proactive, take actions to move the needle, whether it is registration to vote, voting, whether it’s taking a knee if they want to do that and want to explain how they feel about it and why. And to really just continue to move us forward as a society, as a university, as a community.”