Why Duke players decided to wear “Equality” on their warmup shirts

Duke basketball players make loud statement during quiet moment

Mike Krzyzewski explains the Blue Devils warm-up jerseys and the word "Equality" as they open the season with an exhibition game.
Up Next
Mike Krzyzewski explains the Blue Devils warm-up jerseys and the word "Equality" as they open the season with an exhibition game.

Duke’s Grayson Allen said his team knew that everyone would be watching their actions during national anthem. So this week, the team wanted to make a statement.

When the Duke players ran out onto the court for warmups, they donned black shirts, that read “Equality,” across their chests. And as the national anthem played, they stood side-by-side with their shirts on.

“We wanted to make sure what we did, we were doing together, and at the same time not ignoring what is going on,” Allen said.

Over the past year, athletes across the country, particularly football players, have either knelt, locked arms, sat, or raised fists during the national anthem, to protest police brutality and racial inequality. The movement was started by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

But it has also been controversial, with some people questioning whether the protests are disrespectful to the flag. President Donald Trump has been the most notable critic, after he sent multiple tweets criticizing the players’ protests last month.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said there are a lot of mixed messages about standing, and where hands should be place during the national anthem. He said his team wanted to stand, and they wanted to show the world what Duke stands for.

“We wanted to make sure that basically the equality shirt, stood for ‘one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,’” Krzyzewski said. “Does that sound familiar? It’s part of the Pledge of Allegiance and it’s basically what our program and our school is about. That’s what we want our country to be.

“That’s why we stand in reverence to the men and women who have served our country, who protected those rights, but also for every race, every gender, every religion. That’s what our country is about.”

Krzyzewski said he was proud of his players for the statement they made.

Then he turned to nearly dozen military men and women standing in the press conference room.

“And God bless you guys. I hope you took it that way,” he told them. They smiled and nodded.

The players said the decision to wear the shirts was finalized on Thursday, but it had been a part of a two weeks-long discussion of the things that were going on around the country.

“It’s tough seeing the stuff that’s going on around the world, but we just gotta keep living and keep fighting,” freshman forward Marvin Bagley III, said. “At the end of the day, God got us all... so we can’t worry about it a lot.”

Bagley said the team plans to continue to do what’s right, and try to spread love.

“And I think that’s all we need. A little bit more love around the world,” he said. “For sure, speaking for me, I’m going to do whatever I can in my abilities to spread that.”

Duke’s Marvin Bagley talks about the team’s “Equality” shirts and the message the team was trying to send.

Freshman point guard Trevon Duval agreed. He said he thought the team, executed the message well.

“I think we got our message out the right way, without stepping on any toes really,” Duval said, “and I think that it’s a positive message. You can’t really go against what we’re trying to say.”

Jonathan M. Alexander: 919-829-4822, @jonmalexander