In a since-deleted Tweet, yesterday the University of Illinois wrestling program shared a photo of players in which one player, who appears to be Zac Braunagel*, prominently flashes a well known white power symbol. A quick peek at the public posts, likes, and follows on his social media pages shows content from far-right sources.
Braunagel must be suspended for his action. The photographer, photo editor, public relations and communications/media team for Illini Athletics need to be investigated for their complicity in this matter.
Screenshot from Twitter.
The U of I is an institution that likes to pride itself on it's "pre-eminent" status, but as we've seen time and time again, it has failed to provide inclusive and safe enviornments for non-white, non-Christian people.
Allowing known white supremacists to flaunt their hatred under the literal banner of the university is disgusting.
In an email to a U of I professor shared with Smile Politely, Robin Kaler, Associate Chancellor for Public Affairs states:
The Athletics Department pulled it as soon as they learned the meaning. They also spoke to the student, who says he didn’t know it was an offensive sign and the gesturehas [sic] a meaning in the athletics world of being cool under pressure, “ice in your veins.” He expressed remorse that it meant something hateful.
The image was taken several months ago, and the designer who used it today also didn’t understand the significance of it. I admit, I had never heard of it myself.
We are so grateful that you pointed it out, and I am especially grateful that you directed us to the Hate on Display Database. I shared it this evening with all Chief Communications Officers across the university, and I know it will bea [sic] valuable resource to us all.
This response is simply not enough. Braunagel is lying; a simple scan of his social media will confirm that he knew exactly what he was doing. That the U of I claims ignorance of this particular gesture and the American Defamation League's Hate on Display Database is ridiculous, especially given the amount of anti-Semitism and racism that's been exhibited on campus in the last few years.
This type of ignorance is not accetable from a "pre-eminent" institution. Perhaps the entire administration and staff need more diversity and inclusion training. Perhaps they simply need to pay closer attention to what is going on the world, and the ways that manifests on campus.
Finally, shame on the rest of those student athletes for enabling this sort of behavior. If Braunagel felt confident enough to do this during a photo shoot and share these sentiments on social media, you better believe he spouts this garbage behind closed doors.
Top image screenshot from Twitter.
Editor's note: A previous version of this article named Danny Braunagel as the wrestler flashing the white power symbol. A photo tag on Twitter indicates it is his twin brother, Zac Braunagel. We apologize for this error.