After announcing his commitment to Ohio State March 22, Seth Towns’s first captivating performance before a Columbus crowd did not come inside the Schottenstein Center. It came on the streets in front of a crowd that chanted “George Floyd.” 

The graduate transfer basketball player, like many other Ohio State student-athletes and coaches, used the platform that comes with being an athletic figure at Ohio State to voice his take on the police brutality that has culminated in protests that are happening throughout the nation. Student-athletes at Ohio State decided to hold their own peaceful protest June 2 by kneeling for nine minutes outside Ohio Stadium.

Following being detained Friday, Towns took to Twitter to spread his message. 

“True voice is not found in words spoken, however, but in steps taken,” Towns said on Twitter. “These hurtful times call for us to come together and bend the arc of justice — to be true and fearless in our expression of compassion, we must find ways to be the change we need.” 

Less than 48 hours after being detained, Towns was back on the streets holding a megahorn and delivering a message of duty to a crowd that was protesting the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other black Americans who lost their lives due to police use of force.

“This is not a choice,” Towns said Sunday in a Twitter video. “This is our duty as people in a democracy. We must speak.” 

Ohio State graduate transfer men’s basketball player Seth Towns speaks on recent protests. Credit: Courtesy of Adam Cairns/The Columbus Dispatch

Student-athletes gathered outside of Ohio Stadium Tuesday evening and took a knee for nine minutes, representing the amount of time that a Minneapolis officer kneeled on the neck of Floyd. 

Ohio State police officers and members of the athletic department joined the student-athletes in the demonstration, dubbed “Kneel for Nine.” 

The demonstration began with comments from graduate football player Tuf Borland, who spoke of moments beyond this one and how change will come about. 

“I think it’s important to say in this protest, that this moment right here is not the change,” Borland said. “The moment of change is when we stand up after this protest. That’s change.”

The demonstration was concluded by graduate football player C.J. Saunders, who spent Monday night in Franklin County Jail due to violation of curfew. Saunders told the crowd to learn from him and be prepared for a strict enforcement of the curfew by Columbus police. 

Saunders also echoed a message of the unity needed to combat racism in the current climate.

“We are here to say, we are with you. We do not understand what it’s like,” Saunders said. However, we hear, we kneel with you, we are here for you to support you.” 

Graduate football player C.J. Saunders kneels with fellow student-athletes outside Ohio Stadium June 2, 2020 in honor of George Floyd. Credit: Keaton Maisano | Sports Editor

Graduate football player Jonathon Cooper said he has walked downtown a few times with the protesters. For the 2019 captain, the platform he has is one he said must be used to “evoke change and stand for something.”

“I feel in Columbus we are the heart and soul of Columbus with the football team, it’s our duty to stand up and say something,” Cooper said. 

Cooper said that the support from the coaches and the university makes standing for something very easy. Along with support from the Department of Athletics and the university, University Police knelt with the student-athletes. 

“Seeing those police officers come out here and support us shows that they are with us, they understand the problems and hopefully they can help us change it all,” Cooper said. 

In a statement released May 29, Ohio State University Police Chief Kimberly Spears-McNatt touched on equality and how police can best gain the trust of the public.

“Equality means affording everyone the same protections, rights and opportunities,” McNatt said in the statement. “As law enforcement officers, we recognize that in order for the public to trust that police will do the right thing, we must perform our duties with integrity and compassion.”

University Police join student-athletes and others in the nine minute kneel outside Ohio Stadium June 2, 2020 in honor of George Floyd. Credit: Owen Milnes | Campus Producer

Men’s basketball head coach Chris Holtmann released a statement Saturday in support of Towns and the rest of his players’ right to peacefully protest and also shed light on his experience as a basketball coach. 

“I’m the head coach of a sport where I coach young black men,” Holtmann said on Twitter. “I have three staff members who are black and raising black children. I love that sports unify us in ways very few things can.” 

Holtmann’s words transcended outside of basketball. Men’s lacrosse head coach Nick Myers pointed out the importance of speaking out on these issues in a statement on Twitter Monday. 

“It’s hard to find the right words when people are being killed based on their race,” Myers said in the statement. “But clear silence is not an option.” 

Women’s lacrosse head coach Amy Bokker gave thanks to her team’s black players in a statement posted on Twitter Monday. 

“Thank you Chloe [Johnson] and Cai [Martin] for educating me on your experiences,” Bokker said. “I want to be part of the solution. I want to demonstrate courage and love.” 

In Ohio State’s football landscape, junior running back Master Teague posted a message on Twitter that received support from running backs coach Tony Alford and head coach Ryan Day, who tweeted Benjamin Franklin’s quote: “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”

“I believe that we will have a positive result,” Teague said on Twitter. “It’s okay to feel hurt and anger but the way that we express those emotions is important. Action with compassion is louder than action with destruction.”

Junior linebacker Teradja Mitchell changed his Twitter profile picture to reflect a black man with his hands up with the words “Don’t shoot” and the hashtag “#BLM”. Mitchell also posted numerous tweets in which he reflected on being a black man in the current American climate. 

“[I] shouldn’t have to fear for my life when I see a police officer,” Mitchell said in a tweet Wednesday. 

Sophomore defensive lineman Taron Vincent tweeted out a message on how he sees himself in Floyd and his hope for a better future where people see each other as together as humans.

“Everyday I look in the mirror I will see George Floyd. He is I and I am he. The list keeps growing. Our tears keep flowing,” Vincent said. “We will continue to fight for what is right. One day we believe when we enter your line of sight, you too will see, you are just like me. A human being.” 

Buckeyes linebacker coach Al Washington called for a united front against racism that isn’t based in sympathy but rather empathy. 

“We don’t need sympathy, we need EMPATHY,” Washington said in a statement Friday. “Until WE ALL SHARE the pain that results from racism in its various forms — nothing will change.” 

Ohio State student-athletes stand with signs reading “We Kneel In Solidarity” at the “Kneel for Nine” demonstration Tuesday afternoon. Credit: Keaton Maisano| Sports Editor

Former Ohio State players have also used their voices to share their thoughts on the matter. 

Former Ohio State basketball player Clark Kellogg backed Towns’s message, which he described as “personal..real..powerful.”

Cameron Heyward, former Ohio State defensive linemen and current Pittsburgh Steeler, expressed frustration at the unchanging landscape of police brutality. 

“Change must happen,” Heyward said on Twitter. “Our children are inheriting a world that is not improving. Life should be precious.” 

As protests continue across the nation, Ohio State coaches, alumni and student-athletes continue to speak out for a world of equality.

Athletic Director Gene Smith has been a college athletic director since 1986 and Ohio State’s athletic director since 2005. He said his experience has allowed him to work with all kinds of individuals over the years. 

While the country continues to struggle for peace and equality, Smith said he is hoping that his approach on a smaller scale can become commonplace throughout the world. 

“My life’s work is dedicated to talented young men and women of all races, ethnicities, religions, sexual preferences and socioeconomic statuses,” Smith said on Twitter. “I love and support each and every one of them. I dream of a world that does the same.”