In the absence of a fall season, the Cornell football players and coaches haven’t shied away from the spotlight, dedicating much of their time and effort to voter registration and the national movement to fight racial injustice. In an interview with The Sun, head coach David Archer ’05 discussed the team’s activism this year.
Following the death of George Floyd, a nationwide conversation erupted regarding racial injustice and police brutality. Archer held conversations with players about the experiences of Black athletes and how the Cornell football team should fight systemic racism.
“[I’m] just trying to listen, learn [and] use the resources Cornell’s provided to educate myself,” Archer said. “Making a commitment to ongoing education for myself and learning and listening and hearing about the experiences of the black student-athletes on my team … And then I’m trying to use my position in any relationship, leverage and power that I have to help the cause.”
After a discussion with senior cornerback Kenan Clarke about hosting a march, Archer contacted deputy chief Anthony Bellamy of Cornell University Police Department and Mary Beth Grant from the Dean of Students’ office to help facilitate the event.
Clarke, along with women’s soccer junior and sophomore Jadyn Mathews and Emily St. John, organized the Oct. 18 “Our March. Our Campus” event, which aimed at pressing Cornell to recruit more players and coaches of color onto athletic teams.
Acknowledging his own blindspots, Archer noted what he is doing to eliminate biases in his processes as a head coach to promote a more inclusive environment.
“I’m having talks with some outside consultants where I explain my recruiting process … my hiring process [and ask,] ‘Where are my blindspots?’” Archer said. “These are some of the things we’re working on.”
When a video surfaced of former Cornell football recruit Nate Panza using a racial slur on social media, Archer quickly rescinded Panza’s offer to join the team. A petition — titled “De-Densify Cornell’s Ithaca Campus By Expelling Nate Panza ’24” — garnered over 450 signatures and, ultimately, he did not end up attending the University.
Archer reiterated the team’s commitment to anti-racism, preaching a “locker room, campus, broader community” message to his players.
“We all benefit if the Black players on my team and the Black students on our campus feel heard, seen, respected, safe,” Archer said. “[If] they feel all those things, my team’s better, our department’s better, our campus is better [and] our world is better.”
Archer cited many more examples of team leadership on the issue, including junior quarterback Dez’mond Brinson, who created a team video, and the efforts of the team’s wide receivers, including sophomore Javonni Cunningham, senior Turner DePalma and junior Devan Cross, in conversations with police.
Additionally, many players and coaches participated in the Cornell Votes registration drive, which was led by senior defensive lineman Cole Bearden and assistant coach Satyen Bhakta. Archer emphasized the importance of exercising the right to vote, referencing Cornell Votes as a useful non-partisan resource for anyone in need of help with registering to vote.
Archer himself even said that he took his right to vote for granted, despite his father having been a government teacher and a mayor.
“There were still years I didn’t vote,” Archer said. “Anytime it’s a presidential election year, voter turnout is higher. But the truth is, you got to be informed on your state ballot, on your county ballot [and] on your town ballot.”
In the end, Archer emphasized the non-partisan nature of equal rights.
“I ultimately see it as a human rights issue,” Archer said. “I don’t see it as a political issue. And it’s important to me because it’s important to the kids on my team … I just see it as a human rights issue — we all have an important role to play.”