Op-Ed: Koy Moore and Traeshon Holden’s Encounter With Police Taught Them Being a Student Athlete Isn't Enough

There is no “special status” that protects against white supremacy.

What happens when you are a Black student athlete, wearing no college colors in the parking garage of your apartment at night and the police whip through? Louisiana State University’s Koy Moore and University of Alabama’s Traeshon Holden -- both four-star freshman wide receivers -- found out that absent the purple and gold LSU uniform for Koy and the Alabama Crimson Tide uniform for Traeshon, they were viewed as a threat to officers. This causes us to explore the realities of being Black in sports and how without officers knowing athletes are “special,” Koy and Traeshon could have easily ended up arrested or worse -- hashtags.
When hip hop mogul Jay-Z released “The Story of O.J.,” he provided a glimpse into the world of the African-American student-athlete. A world in which the Black athlete signs a Letter of Intent (contract), and overnight is catapulted into a milieu in which his status is elevated above other Blacks in American society.
RELATED: Lawyer For LSU Football Player Koy Moore Says Police Held Him and Alabama Player At Gunpoint
Author William C. Rhodan wrote in his 2006 book Forty Million Dollar Slaves that the Black athlete is in many ways similar to his enslaved African ancestor. Why? Because he contracts his body to a university for his oftentimes white coach to oversee his body for the university’s profit. What is the connection between the figure in Jay-Z’s song and the figures in Mr. Rhodan’s book?
In Jay-Z”s song, he quotes a famous line by O.J. Simpson, where his attorney Johnny Cochran refers to Simpson as “Black,” but Simpson responds by saying, “I am not Black, I’m O.J.” Simpson's response speaks to the mindset of many African-American student athletes on college campuses throughout America.  Simpson's response speaks to the mindset of many Black student athletes, often believing that the signing of the Letter of Intent transforms their status, acting as a prophylaxis against the ills of American society.
During the antebellum period, enslaved Blacks would sometimes receive “day passes” from their slavemasters to visit other enslaved Blacks on nearby plantations. These passes would often be granted to those who had an elevated status on that plantation. But sometimes while traveling, they would encounter armed slave patrols, which would interrogate them, questioning the validity of their day pass. Any insubordination could result in brutality or killing, all for the sake of maintaining white supremacy. Why? Because the thought of an African-American traveling about the country free and without supervision was a threat. Harsh as the thought is, that is what happened to Moore and Holden on the night of November 7 at LSU’s student housing in Baton Rouge.
It is well established that modern police departments have their roots in antebellum slave patrols. So, when Moore and his longtime friend Holden were exiting Koy’s apartment to grab a bite to eat, they could not fathom that several white Baton Rouge Police Officers would exit their patrol vehicles and hold them both at gunpoint. The two, believing in their constitutional right to travel and in their status as student athletes, could not believe what happened next. They were detained, ordered to place their hands on the hood of a car, and repeatedly searched, all while being interrogated about guns and drugs. Given the hostility shown to them, both young men showed exemplary poise and maturity. The violent encounter did not stop until both Koy and Traeshon informed the officers they were football players. That was their day pass. It made the encounter with the contemporary slave patrol end for them.
So what did they do wrong? Nothing. Their crime was the same as their “day pass” touting ancestors before them. The same as Lamar Johnson, Jordan Frazier, Raheem Howard, Alton Sterling, Danny Buckley, Trayford Pellerin, Travis Stevenson, Calvin Toney, and Quawan Charles: they had the audacity to be Black and free in an America that fears Blackness.
As Black people we must wrestle with opportunity and accountability. Our children are not enslaved to these universities though the system for decades has been designed as such. We as Black people must demand the safety and protection of our most precious resource— our descendants. The opportunities provided to Black youth to seek higher education and for a few, a chance to play professional sports, cannot absolve us of the fight for accountability in American policing. Outside of uniforms and university colors our children walk solely in their Black skin.
We know Koy and Traeshon’s story could have ended totally different if they had been just a few blocks away in a Baton Rouge neighborhood called “The Bottom.” Until we, as Black people, have equal treatment it is our responsibility to tell the truth about these situations and to keep pushing for change. That is the only way our reality changes.
Ryan K. Thompson is the attorney representing Koy Moore. Gary D. Chambers Jr., is a local activist in Baton Rouge.

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