Right hand. Left hand. Crossover.
Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree had executed this simple transfer of power many times in his life. As a high-schooler leading Neumann-Goretti to the Pennsylvania state championship. During a practice with Jay Wright. An act as simple as dribbling a basketball during Villanova’s 2018 National Championship season.
It’s safe to say, though, that his most important dribbles didn’t take place on the basketball court, but away from it. On June 2, 2020, Cosby-Roundtree led a Black Lives Matter march through Philadelphia. With each step he took on the blazing pavement, the Spaulding ball sputtered against the surface. Slowly but surely, Cosby-Roundtree meandered through West Philadelphia, walking over 1.3 miles to protest the death of George Floyd.
He was at the helm of a group of high school and college basketball players who organized a march down 52nd Street. Most were sporting black t-shirts and joggers, Adidas backpacks or Jordans on their feet. Some played for local high schools, others for nearby JUCOs, or even Penn State or Villanova.
The beauty of the moment was that the name on the front of the jersey, or for that matter, even the last name on the back. New Nittany Lions transfer, and Binghamton sensation, Sam Sessoms wasn’t concerned with how his new coach, Pat Chambers, would react to his strong activism, or about his brand, or future earnings in the NBA. There was no consulting SIDs, coaches, the NCAA, or anyone else involved. Sessoms, Cosby-Rountree and others, all with careers on the line, took the streets because police brutality is bigger than basketball. No matter how high your number is on an NBA draft board, being a black man in America transcends all of that, and that was something that regardless of level, all these men could relate to.
“If you aren’t black, then you don’t understand what black athletes are going through,” Cosby-Roundtree said in a phone interview.
Cosby-Roundtree chose to protest after seeing an Instagram from Community College of Beaver County star Tymair Johnson. Cosby-Roundtree credits Johnson with spreading the word quickly and effectively, so much so that basketball players from all levels of play showed up, and even local media such as Philadelphia’s ABC and FOX affiliates. Cosby and Roudtree would grace the cover of the Philadelphia Inquirer sports section the next morning. A video of Sessoms made it to SLAM, in which he passionately describes why he came to protest;
“This sh**t bigger than him. This sh**t bigger than me. We’re doing it for our families to come, our families that are not here. All black people across the world. Everybody understand, we did something positive.”
For all those who say shut up and dribble and stick to sports, there’s another fire ignited, urging more student-athletes than ever before to get out, and make their voices heard. Sessoms and Cosby-Roundtree aren’t committed to just one-off protests, but systematic change.
In the 22 days since the initial protest, both have posted frequently regarding the Black Lives Matter movement on social media, and Cosby-Roundtree took it upon himself to have a one-on-one conversation with Jay Wright about the current state of America. He is leading the charge for the Wildcats, urging all to vote in local and national elections, and fill out the census as well.
When I asked Cosby-Roundtree what white allies could do, he didn’t stutter. He mentioned the importance of continuing to learn, and educate oneself with more than the news-worthy instances of police brutality, but the layered racism towards black people that is ingrained in American society. In taking the first step in learning and conversing with people of color, Cosby-Roundtree hopes that white people will acknowledge; “I understand I will never know what it’s like to be a black man or woman but I will be there to help figure out the next step to changing our society.”
For the millions of Americans who’ve watched Villanova squads tear down the nets after national championships in 2016 and 2018, as the hundreds of thousands of us engaged with Villanova basketball on social media, the least we white allies can do is support our players off the court as well. The West Philadelphia march is not the sole token of college-athlete activism, but just the tip of the iceberg of what’s to come.