Illinois State University athletics director Larry Lyons said Tuesday he is working to better educate himself about the experiences of Black athletes as he looks to repair the damage his “All Redbird Lives Matter” remark has caused.
At least one student-athlete said Lyons should resign for what the athletes say is the administration’s history of ignoring the struggles and racism Black athletes face.
“We are listening to their voices and we are trying to react, and we are trying to get better,” Lyons said. “There’s no question that we all could use some education and I’m committed to that education.”
ISU athletics published an action plan for social change Monday in response to demands from student-athletes who staged a boycott of all team activities. The plan calls for a series of reforms, including creation of a student-athlete committee to look at ways to bring about social justice, and required education on diversity and equity in the athletic department.
While the action plan seemed to address specific points that student-athletes raised in their demands, senior track athlete Mya Robinson said it fell flat. She said the plan didn’t seem genuine.
“I think because we are boycotting, they are just trying to put out statements to make us feel better and get us back to practicing and that’s not the way to go,” Robinson said.
She said Lyons should resign, not just for the comment, but for what she feels is an indifference toward the experiences of Black athletes. She said that felt especially true over the summer when no one from athletics administration reached out when student-athletes were struggling from the string of police shootings against Blacks.
“It’s more than just having diversity on campus, it’s the fact that we go through so much and you would never know until you ask, but they never ask,” Robinson said. “That’s one of the main problems. They really don’t know the Black student-athletes on campus.”
When asked about calls for his resignation, Lyons responded: “Those individuals are certainly welcome to have their opinions. I am evaluated like everybody else on this campus. President Dietz is my direct supervisor. He would welcome their input into that evaluation.”
ISU sophomore volleyball player Kendee Hilliard is vice president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. She said she accepts Lyons’ apology, adding she wants to work with athletics administration to take corrective actions.
“I feel as though Mr. Lyons owned up to his insensitive comment,” Hilliard said. “To me, he was apologetic and has committed to taking steps forward to making this athletics department better and one that alumni, current Redbirds and future Redbirds should be proud of."
Lyons said the action plan is meant to serve as a living document that student-athletes can help shape. The plan includes creating a student-athlete listening forum that would be led by Doris Houston, ISU’s interim assistant to the president for diversity and inclusion.
Houston said the university must be willing to listen to “uncomfortable truths and to act when our students are hurting.” She said the university is working help foster that environment.
“I have been meeting with leaders from athletics and will be meeting with student-athletes and others from the campus community,” Houston said. “With student leaders at the table, we will address the issues that student-athletes have raised and I have no doubt that our campus will be the better for it.”
Lyons repeated that he regrets his comments and the pain they caused, but he believes the conversation that has resulted will bring positive change.
“Any time there is a little tension and you can find ways to improve the situation and get better, to me that’s a win and that’s what we are going to do,” he said.
Lyons has worked for ISU athletics for 30 years. He has been athletics director since May 2013.
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