On Friday afternoon the University of North Carolina-system Board of Governors decided to reject a proposal to build a $5 million structure to house the controversial "Silent Sam" Confederate statue on campus.
Before the vote, men's basketball head coach Roy Williams commented on the ongoing situation. Several members of Williams' team signed a letter to the UNC Board of Trustees and the Board of Governors that opposed the statue returning to campus.
Sophomore forward Garrison Brooks, sophomore guard K.J. Smith and junior guard Brandon Robinson had all signed the letter as of Williams' Friday afternoon press conference, along with former men's basketball players Harrison Barnes, Brice Johnson, Kendall Marshall, Tommy LaGarde, Bobby Frasor, Serge Zwikker and Joel James.
Williams told reporters that he supported their right to speak on issues that are important to them.
“I talked to our guys about it, told them if they feel strongly about it, go right ahead,” Williams said Friday. "It's a touchy issue. It's a hard issue and it's an easy issue, it really is. It's something we've talked about on multiple occassions. As an alum, as a graduate, as a coach I've got to have many different views on things but it's a very divisive thing. I hate that we have anything this divisive on our campus or involved in our institution."
Williams added: “My own personal opinion is I wish we didn’t have a situation where we’re putting it back on campus. I don’t know what everybody’s motivation was in the early 19-teens, 1913? But right now it’s a very divisive issue. I wish it would go away.”
More than 230 former and current athletes have signed the petition. Former UNC athletes, including Vince Carter and Jerry Stackhouse, also penned an open letter before Friday's meeting, calling it "crisis time" at Carolina. The letter denounced keeping Silent Sam on campus in Chapel Hill, per The Washington Post.
"We love UNC but now also feel a disconnect from an institution that was unwilling to listen to students and faculty who asked for Silent Sam to be permanently removed from campus. This is crisis time at Carolina, and we feel that a clear shot has been fired. It hurts us."
In addition to addressing the unrest surrounding "Silent Sam," the letter also addressed the current athletes taking a stand against the statue's return.
"First, to the UNC current athletes: As former Carolina athletes, we recognize the very difficult position current scholarship athletes face in joining a public protest against this representation of white supremacy on our campus. For those of you who decide to speak up and stand with other students, staff and faculty who are against this multi-million dollar investment for the housing of the statue, we applaud your courage and conviction. We support your right to express your democratic right of freedom of speech. You should not be fearful of repercussion. We would have liked to have heard the opinion of the athletic department leadership and coaches regarding this disposition of Silent Sam ... especially in light of the high number of Black athletes who have participated on the basketball, football and track and field teams over the history of Carolina athletics. Their silence is very glaring and tells us a story."
Other athletes who signed the petition include Marvin Williams, Tony Bradley, Theo Pinson, Ed Davis, Wayne Ellington, John Henson, Isaiah Hicks and Brendan Haywood.
“Silent Sam” was on a main campus quad from 1913 until it was torn down in August by protesters. The statewide Board of Governors decided Friday to reject the original proposal and pass a resolution to have several of its members work on a new plan that’s due in March.