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'You Can Play' video message spreads beyond campus

  • More than a slogan
    More than a slogan  W&M athletes endorsed You Can Play's campaign for equal treatment for all students in a video made last year.  Courtesy
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Willie Shaw ’15 had several motivations for spearheading the drive to produce William & Mary’s video version of “You Can Play” last year, including writing the music.

The “You Can Play” organization and campaign seeks to “challenge the culture of locker rooms and spectator areas by focusing only on an athlete’s skills, work ethic and competitive spirit.”

Shaw, who played third base on the Tribe baseball team, transferred to the university from a California junior college and found the athletic environment at the university “special.”

He served on W&M’s Student Athletic Advisory Committee, which is made up of two representatives from each varsity team and the cheerleading squad. It has several purposes, among them serving as liaison to the administration on things like student-athlete welfare concerns. It’s also a community service organization that wants other students on campus to know that athletes are no different than they are. They do the same things they do. They like the same things they like.

{{youtube:medium:center|Ap_BQVkjmP8, Willie Shaw and the "You Can Play" video}}

“Even though I was part of the baseball team, I was part of the greater athletic community; that was also my team,” Shaw said during a recent trip back to campus for Homecoming. “We saw each other as teammates. It wasn’t, ‘Oh, you’re black,’ or ‘Oh, you’re Hispanic,’ or ‘Oh, you’re Catholic or Jewish.’ You’re a person. You are human. We’re going to love you no matter what.

“It doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, and I think that’s the message that runs true throughout our athletic community. That’s what’s kind of special about the Tribe athletic community. We’re really close knit, and you don’t find that at every school.”

Deidre Connelly, the Tribe’s sports psychology consultant and one of two advisors to SAAC, said Shaw was passionate about how athletes are viewed on campus, that he sought to “maybe counteract that ‘dumb jock’ stereotype that we see so much nationally. It was in that context that Willie wanted to do some videos that had a different message.”

The “You Can Play” campaign represented an ideal opportunity to do that. Participants from high schools, colleges, even the Canadian Football League and the NFL’s New York Giants have participated in the campaign by producing short videos in which players from various backgrounds vow to accept all people regardless of color, creed or sexual orientation.

Shaw, the SAAC and more than a dozen student volunteers who appeared in the video – all athletes and former Tribe athletes – endorsed that ideal.Willie Shaw '15

“People want to be seen for who they are, what they stand for, what they believe in and not have to walk around feeling like someone else is portraying them as something they are not,” Shaw said. “It gave us an opportunity to say, ‘This is who we are, no matter what you’ve heard or what you’ve speculated.’

“We’re a community that comes together and it doesn’t matter who you are, where you’re from, what you believe in or what your sexual orientation is. If you’re one of us, you’re one of us. If you’re one of the Tribe, you can play. And I think that’s something that has resonated across the country with athletes.”