MIT Football Tackles Diversity and Inclusion Conversations

Published in MIT News on November 4, 2016, by Matthew D. Bauer, Division of Student Life

Players’ protest begins wave of discussion.

The stands were filled with cheering fans. Music pulsed through the warm early fall breeze. On this particular Saturday, Sept. 17, everyone was ready for some football.

Players from MIT and rival Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) warmed up on the field, getting psyched for their annual gridiron matchup. As the national anthem swelled and heads turned toward the flag in Steinbrenner Stadium, three MIT players knelt on the sidelines: freshman defensive lineman Ben Bennington, sophomore running back Adis Ojeda, and senior defensive back Tremaan Robbins. In the weeks leading up to the RPI game, the three teammates discussed joining professional athletes in protest against deadly shootings and brutality by police officers happening with alarming frequency against black people across the country. That day, Head Coach Chad Martinovich stood by Robbins’ side, his hand resting on Robbins’ bulky shoulder pads, in a show of respect and support.

“The first two games I didn’t feel comfortable approaching Coach about taking a knee,” Robbins said. “I worked up the courage to talk with him the week before RPI.” But taking the knee was just part of what was on Robbins’s mind. He and other black student-athletes at MIT and across the country worry about more than the next game. “We fear for our lives outside of campus,” Robbins said. “So I explained what I was going to do, and Coach said that there had to be more to this than taking a knee..."

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