SI Vault
July 09, 2012
PARDON ME, I'd like to interrupt your regularly scheduled programming and introduce you to America's rarest athlete: Wonman Joseph Williams. His first name's a Korean word that means full harmony, but you don't need to check his papers. He's a defensive back on a Division I football team. You know, a student-ATHLETE.
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
July 09, 2012

Why Don't More Athletes Take A Stand?

View CoverRead All Articles
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

Dear Coach Reid and the UVA Coaching Staff:

... This morning I met with you to discuss my involvement in the hunger strike and you expressed your disappointment that I and my fellow strikers are not seeking to resolve this grave issue in a more "political" manner. You told me that you had thought higher of me before you learned of my involvement in this campaign and stated that you were dismayed by my perceived unwillingness to "follow the rules."

... I would firstly like to point out that this campaign has existed at UVA for 14 years and has thoroughly exhausted all manner of negotiations "within the rules" without any tangible results.... Secondly, no great injustice has ever been overturned by following the rules. Our great country was founded on the wholly evil institution of slavery, which was only overturned when the nation split in two and engaged in civil war. The Jim Crow reign of segregation and fierce race hatred in the south, though challenged repeatedly through purely political and judicial actions, was eventually overturned only as a result of the nonviolent protest tactics of the Civil Rights Movement.

... I believe it is my responsibility as a member of the University community, and even moreso as a member of the human race, to stand up for those whose voices have been silenced and whose livelihoods are being marginalized by the policies of the current University administration. In fact, I firmly believe that the workers that the Living Wage Campaign represents are just as important to this community, if not moreso, than any football coaches, players, or fans. Thus, it disheartens myself and my fellow campaigners that while these workers, the majority of whom are women and African Americans, are being systematically discriminated against and exploited, there are plans to spend millions of dollars on a domed practice field and other accommodations for the athletics department.... I refuse to comply with rules, regulations, or restrictions that reinforce the discrimination, persecution, and exploitation of human beings.

... I happily sacrifice my bodily needs for the greater cause of economic and social justice and I would, without hesitation, sacrifice my membership on the football team and my enrollment at the University if it would result in the University administration recognizing and meeting the demands of the Living Wage Campaign.... I wish you, the rest of the coaches, and all of my teammates nothing but the best and I sincerely love you all as my family.

—Best, Joseph

A few hours later, he ups the ante. His letter to his coaches becomes the heart of a Why I'm Hunger Striking post that he writes for In no time The Huffington Post and The Nation, upon discovering that he's an athlete, publish it too.

He decides to ignore his coach's reservations and keep starving. Stairways grow daunting. His body grows colder. His sense of smell intensifies, a primal response to food deprivation: He can scent a ham sandwich a first down away. Over and over, the gut flashes the mind a message—I'm hungry—and the legs begin walking automatically toward the dining hall, and over and over the mind flashes back the same reply, Stop! You can't eat, until finally the loop exhausts itself and the body says, To hell with it all, then, just let me sleep....

Hunger's fourth day dawns. The campus workers send word to the strikers—We can't show up at the noontime rallies; we're afraid of getting fired. But Miss Mary can't be fired for riding by on her bike and smiling and waving her gratitude to Joseph. "Every time I see him," she says, "it's a joy to my eyes." Mama Kathy can't be fired for shaking a finger at him and crying, "Eat, gorgeous! Just eat when nobody's looking and act like you're hungry! Pretend you're in the drama department and you're going for the Academy Award!"

"Aw, I can't do that, Mama," Joseph replies.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11