As the national conversation about race continues to grow in the aftermath of George Floyd‘s death and the subsequent national protests, University of Virginia’s coaching staff been recording some conversations with some swimming alums with important perspectives to share.
Among those Desorbo talks to: Olympic gold medalist Cullen Jones, Virginia alum Trevor Freeland (an ACC team champ in 1987), Jason Webb (an individual ACC champ) and 2006 ACC Swimmer of the Year Brielle White.
You can watch the interviews below:
Trevor Freeland (about 9:00 in), Jason Webb (about 27:00 in), Brielle White (about 36:00 in):
Cullen Jones swam for Desorbo for about six months in 2017, when Desorbo was coaching at North Carolina State University.
Jones tells a few stories from his life. He tells the story of walking his dog the day after Floyd was killed and having a cop turn his car around and drive back to check in on Jones.
“What’s going through my mind is I have to defuse this man who has a gun, to make sure that he understands that I am not a threat,” Jones says. “So I start asking him about his dog. The only reason why I know to do this is because, unfortunately, I’ve been in this situation too many times.”
Jones says he’s been pulled over, yanked from his car and asked to pop the trunk by a police officer, who saw Jones’ swimming equipment bag before recognizing him as “that black swimmer.”
Trevor Freeland grew up swimming for the Philadelphia Department of Recreation program portrayed in the movie Pride. The team was the first predominantly black team to ever attain national rankings. Freeland says he was the first black swimmer in the ACC.
He tells about being stopped on his way into the pool for a meet and having to prove his name was on the heat sheet, despite having a full swim bag. He also talks about attending the 2012 Olympic Trials and being asked to leave the reserved seat section by someone who didn’t realize he had VIP tickets.
Freeland also talks about his time at UVA, swimming for former head coach Mark Bernardino. At the ACC Championships in 1987, a rival swimmer hurled a racial slur at Freeland, who had been taught by his mother not to be confrontational, especially in the South.
“It hurt to let someone say that to you and have to walk away,” Freeland said. When his teammates and coaches found out, Bernardino turned the team bus around to march back to the pool to confront the opposing swimmer’s coach, something Freeland called “one of the proudest moments of my life.”
Jason Webb was another Philadelphia Department of Recreation alum who swam at Virginia in college in the ’90s. He still lives and works in Philadelphia, which has broken out in protests over the past week. He and his wife work in the medical field, and he talks about the feeling of being on edge, not only due to the nationwide protests but also the impact of COVID-19 and the coronavirus he’s seeing every day.
“How do you make the best out of a bad situation? How do we get to talking about it? How do we get an open dialogue?” Webb said, emphasizing the need for discussion and learning.
Brielle White is another in the line of Philadelphia Department of Recreation standouts. She swam for Virginia in the mid-2000s, the same time Jones was swimming for NC State. She talks about a team “ghetto”-themed party she was invited to as a freshman, and the difficulty in bringing up the troublesome connotations of the word “ghetto” and a party themed on racial stereotypes with teammates and friends, people she liked and was on great terms with.
That’s an example, she says, of some unconscious ways people can hurt others, often without knowing it.
“I don’t think that any of those things were conscious, like ‘I’m going to do this to be offensive to Brielle White or to be offensive to black people,’ she said. “I just think there are times that things are so unconscious, so deep-rooted that you don’t even see it. And that’s just the same thing with the justice system.”