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Anti-DEI Movement Leads to Protest of Arkansas Foes

Hands Razorbacks massive advantage in upcoming recruiting cycle
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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The political world has generated a controversy that might create a rather interesting opening for the Arkansas Razorbacks in the world of recruiting. 

Florida governor Ron DeSantis led an effort to remove diversity, equity and inclusion offices from his state's universities. This resulted in the dissolution of the programs at schools such as the University of Florida.

Not long after this was done, NFL Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith, one of the Gators' most prominent alumnus, issued a lengthy public statement on the matter.

"To the MANY minority athletes at UF, please be aware and vocal about this decision by the University who is now closing doors on other minorities without any oversight," Smith wrote near the end. "And to those who think it's not your problem and stay on the side lines and saying nothing, you are complicit in supporting systemic issues." 

Then, on Monday, the NAACP followed suit with a letter to the NCAA and current and future college athletes letting them know it no longer considered universities in Florida acceptable for people of color, and, thus, officially encouraged them to play sports elsewhere. In it, NAACP president Derrick Johnson asked African-American athletes to "choose wisely" when deciding where to play sports.

""This is not about politics," Johnson wrote. "It's about the protection of our community, the progression of our culture, and most of all, it's about your education, and your future."

He then indicated the movement in Florida to eradicate DEI programs from its universities showed a lack of appreciation for the value African-American athletes bring to the state.

“Diversity, equity, and inclusion are paramount to ensuring equitable and effective educational outcomes,” Johnson wrote in a statement issued along with the letter. “The value Black and other college athletes bring to large universities is unmatched.”

“If these institutions are unable to completely invest in those athletes," he continued, "it’s time they take their talents elsewhere.” 

The question now becomes whether these athletes will follow through on what is being asked of them. If so, how many will flee athletic programs in Florida in protest of the actions being taken there.

So far, there have only been hearings on DEI programs by the Arkansas legislature in regard to the states' universities. Because no action has been taken to pass a bill that would shut down such programs, the Razorbacks remain a possible option as a potential landing spot within the SEC.

Texas recently eliminated DEI programs at its universities and Alabama passed an anti-DEI bill just a few days ago, thus potentially eliminating four of the Hogs' biggest competitors in Texas, Texas A&M, Alabama and Auburn for athletes who agree with the protest. This provides Sam Pittman and Eric Musselman, along with all the other Razorback athletics coaches, a massive theoretical advantage in recruiting.  

Another hidden advantage for Arkansas comes in the form of NIL. There will still be African-American athletes who ignore the protest and fully intend to play sports in an anti-DEI state. However, they immediately have tremendous leverage. 

All they have to do is say they are taking a high risk of facing backlash and damaging their brand. Thus, if they are going to take the hit by becoming a Florida Gator or Texas Longhorn, there's going to need to be a much larger number next to that dollar sign on their NIL checks.

The potential unofficial anti-DEI tax for programs in these states is considerable, draining the overall coffers available for recruits. For every athlete who leverages these schools, the pool of players Arkansas can now compete for becomes larger.

This is the first break Arkansas has had on the recruiting side of college athletics since NIL became acceptable in summer of 2021. With the issue burning hot just weeks before the next transfer portal window, coaches won't have to wait long to see whether this protest has legs.

In April everyone will know whether this fell upon deaf ears among the youth. If it hasn't, it will fall squarely on Pittman, Musselman and all the remaining coaches at Arkansas to stack the talent needed to win as quickly as possible while they can.


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