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NAACP president on its call for Black athletes to avoid Florida public universities

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Last week, the NAACP issued a call for Black student athletes in Florida to reconsider going to public colleges and universities in the state. That's because in Florida, spending on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, or DEI, is prohibited under a state law signed last year by Governor Ron DeSantis. Staff positions focused on diversity efforts at the University of Florida were eliminated earlier this month. At Florida State, though, staff have been reassigned, according to reporting from the Tallahassee Democrat. NAACP president and CEO Derrick Johnson joins me now to talk about his organization's call to student athletes. President Johnson, thank you for being here.

DERRICK JOHNSON: Thank you for having me.

RASCOE: So what impact do you think it would have for students to decide against these public colleges and universities in Florida?

JOHNSON: It would have a great impact on them. It is no reason why a student athlete should attend a public school in the state of Florida where that school simply don't appreciate who they are, the contributions they can make and the contributions that have been made by individuals in their communities. Why should those schools be enriched through college sports from free participation from athletes when those same athletes are not seen as human beings?

RASCOE: But have you spoken to any current college students or high school seniors about that? Like, what are they saying to you?

JOHNSON: What they're saying is they're glad that we're bringing this issue to their attention. They're opening up their options and looking at other schools. You know, top-rate players have a lot of options. They don't have to stay in a particular state. They have the pick of the litter. Then you have other players who may not be the highest recruits. You have HBCUs, and you have other institutions.

RASCOE: I mean, this is an argument that comes up a lot when it comes to especially Black student athletes about going to places where they're respected, or there may, you know, be very little diversity in the school outside of some of these athletic programs. I guess why single out Florida in particular when I'm sure a lot of these arguments could be made at other places, as well?

JOHNSON: Florida has not been targeted. Florida has decided to become the target. And as a result of that, when you have a wannabe president who sits in the governor's office using race in a lowest common denominator of human existence to create this level of tribalism, he put the spotlight on Florida schools. And unfortunately for many Floridians, they resist this, and we must do something to change the dynamic.

RASCOE: Your letter is addressed to Charlie Baker, the president of the NCAA. Why did you choose to address it to him instead of just writing an open letter to students?

JOHNSON: Because it's a both and - the students need to understand what their options are so they can choose wisely, but we also want to send notice to the NCAA. It is important to understand history from this perspective that many states in the South was flying the Confederate flag up until African Americans began to demand something differently from the schools they attend, particularly collegiate schools where they participated on the basketball court, on the football field. And one by one, those states began to remove those Confederate symbols, emblems or flags.

RASCOE: Have you heard back from Charlie Baker?

JOHNSON: We have not heard back, but we're going to continue to speak to students, both those in school, to say, hey, you have a new option here. You can go to the portal - and those who are choosing which schools to attend - hey, don't go somewhere where you're not seen as a full human being.

RASCOE: That's NAACP president and CEO Derrick Johnson. Thank you so much for joining us.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

RASCOE: We reached out to the NCAA regarding that letter. A spokesperson wrote to us in a statement, NCAA members are located in all 50 states, and those members expect the association to continue to leverage college sports' tremendous potential to positively impact the lives of young people, especially young people from diverse communities. They also said, we appreciate those who share their voices to advocate for student athletes. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.