Adia Barnes looked down at the navy Arizona T-shirt she was wearing and joked that she “couldn’t have planned it better.”
Barnes announced this week that Friday night’s game against Colorado will be a blue-out. It’s about more than wearing one of the Wildcats’ primary colors. Blue is also the color of unity, which is appropriate as Friday is a Unity Game.
The athletic department has partnered with the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE) to host the first college Unity Game. The Arizona women’s basketball team is the third team to host such a game; the others are the WNBA’s Liberty and the NBA’s Pistons.
“I am proud to work with the University of Arizona and happy when they said ‘we want to be the first,’” said Kim Miller, RISE’s Vice President, Leadership & Education Programs. “The Unity Game is an opportunity to bring people together around a common cause — what is important to the University of Arizona. For UA, it is public awareness; get people aware first in order to engage and then take broader and deeper steps.”
RISE was founded by Stephen M. Ross, owner of the Miami Dolphins, to use the power of sports to improve race relations and drive social progress. The organization partners with sports leagues, organizations, athletes and educators to promote understanding, respect and equality.
The activities for each Unity Game differ based on the needs of the team.
Both the Liberty and Pistons connected their game to a program they initiated in the community.
“I saw the Liberty’s game and thought it was amazing,” UA forward Kat Wright said. “To think that I am going to be a part of that is unreal. It is so special. Sports brings people together. Just think about our team: we have people from different countries and nationalities, different ethnicities and religions and we create a melting pot. Sports epitomizes unity.”
UA’s theme for the Unity Game is “RISE to Equality.”
The game will include videos from Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr, UA athletes and Barnes. The UA will hand out more than 600 co-branded (RISE/UA) T-shirts. Fans can take photos at the RISE “It Take All Colors” photo booth.
The campaign starts with a message.
“Sports do bring people together and we can start to have conversations we might normally shy away from,” said Becky Bell, the UA’s associate athletics director in charge of CATS life skills. “Social justice issues are at the forefront of society these days and it’s great to have an opportunity to capitalize on it.
“(The message is) let’s come together with unity, respect, and equality. It’s OK to have an opinion, whatever it might be, but have an informed opinion. Be educated. Student-athletes have a platform; gain knowledge, be respectful and go make a difference, change the world.”
Barnes says it’s important to talk about these issues.
“We support everybody; we are accepting and are talking about issues that are real,” said Barnes. “Sports is one of the platforms where we learn a lot about our differences. We learn to be sensitive about others feelings and things you can’t say; things you don’t think about when it’s not in your world.”
The UA/RISE partnership grew out of the one with the Pac-12. After attending sessions in Pac-12’s San Francisco headquarters, the students on the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee came back to Tucson raving about what they had experienced. RISE and the UA formed an alliance this fall. The organization has held programs on UA campus about identity, diversity and inclusion.
For UA, the Unity Game is just the beginning. Staff, administrators and coaches say they will work to make the campus a place where diversity is valued.
“It’s comprehensive, and I like that.” Bell said “It’s not just one event, it is a series of events for, hopefully, years to come. I love what they (RISE) do. The student-athletes are open and honest. It’s a great way to share and have conversations that are meaningful and personal. They are creating change conversations.”