Cullen Jones, Group of Black Swimmers Joining Voices Together to Fight Racism

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Cullen Jones Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

With his swimming days behind him, Cullen Jones knew he could only provide a certain perspective. As he told USA Today Friday, USA Swimming consulted the 36-year-old four-time Olympic medalist on the organization’s response to protests against police violence and systemic racism in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police May 25.

Jones’ response was to help but also acknowledge the younger voices in the conversation, those of swimmers still in the pool. That has led to a group chat of a dozen black swimmers, many household names among American swimming’s elite, to coordinate their responses and amplify their collective voices.

“My first thing was like, you need to put out something quickly,” Jones told USA Today. “You need to address this head on because I’m not talking about myself anymore because I have retired and I’m not training for 2021. Not only Olympians but Olympic hopefuls are coming up, and they are not only people that are going to contribute to Team USA, they are leaders on your team. They might be voted your captains. So you need, as an organization, to stand behind them.”

Those collaborations led to USA Swimming revising its initial statement into a more substantial letter June 12, which includes a pledge to continue working with members of the black community to increase its structural diversity efforts. Many swimmers – including Simone Manuel, Lia Neal, Reece Whitley, Natalie Hinds and Giles Smith – have expressed their thoughts on the current moment as individuals. But the group has been a springboard to greater collective visibility.

“We’ve been rallying a bunch of swimmers, Olympians, national teamers past and present, to be part of fundraising to contribute to organizations that combat these racial injustices and systemic racism,” Neal told USA Today. “So what I’ve been working on with Cullen has been about the Black story specifically. And what I’ve been working on with Jacob has also been, yes, involving the Black athletes but also now, just as important in this movement is having allyship, and getting all these swimmers to show their support and solidarity in volunteering their time.”

Neal, for instance, made the connection to Uninterrupted, the media platform run by LeBron James. Both she and Whitley posted videos Friday, in commemoration of Juneteenth, on Uninterrupted.

Their “Dear America” videos expressed their thoughts about the moment and expressed their hopes for the future of the conversation.

Manuel also posted a message to her Instagram Friday, with a drive “to continue the fight for [our ancestors], but for all who come after.”

 

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We remember this day for our ancestors’ strength. We remember this day for their perseverance. We remember this day for the freedoms they continued to fight for. We remember this day because our ancestors’ stories, journeys, and faith for a better tomorrow is the strong foundation that we stand on. We remember their pain, their joy, their tears and prayers. We remember that we are created from the same fabric. AND that fabric molds and shapes us to continue the fight for justice, equality and equity. To continue the fight for them, but for all who come after. Because we are the answered prayers of the past and the inspiration and hope for the future. ✊🏿❤️✊🏾💚 #happyjuneteenth

A post shared by Simone Manuel (@swimone) on

7 comments

    • Anne-Marie Tucker

      Jozsef de Tassanyi. It’s amazing. Swimming is such a traditionally white sport. This takes courage!
      💪🏼💪🏼💪🏼❤️❤️❤️

  1. David Moreno

    I would love to be part of that! I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s as a club swimmer in Los Angeles. And yes i was the only brown person on the team. I heard words such as “token”, “wet back” and other words from teammates and other teams. The sport was completely 98% white. I made it college to swim division one. Unfortunately terms like that continued but would often be used in joking terms but it always reminded me of how I felt as a kid swimming. There were more white people who were accepting and kind to me throughout those years that kept me going during those formative years. But as for seeing someone of my color or close to me during those years did not happen till college. By the time I entered college, I had already been swimming for 14 years.

  2. Jenoa Olson

    I hope USA swimming listens. Cullen Jones has done so much through the Make a Splash program in changing peoples lives for the better. He and Simone have never been anything but gracious and wonderful representations of the sport.

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