Football team members worked to show that the actions of one do not define them all.
Teddy Wright was at a small barbecue with some teammates on March 30th. At that point, any chance to play a meaningful football season had already come and gone for everyone there. The most important focus as a team was to do all they could to give themselves the best chance to return to the practice field and prepare for next season. However, the redshirt junior safety was about to learn that something far more serious than anything that can happen between the hash marks was about to take over the program.
Some team members who knew Bryan Vargas better than others learned of his transgressions while at the gathering, and that quickly became the only conversation that was going on. Wright spoke about his initial reactions.
“We caught the first glance before it hit social media the next day…We started hitting each other up when we realized this is really true,” said Wright. “Then everyone was tagging the football team on social media and we really just wanted to say that this is not who we are and not what we stand for as a team and individually…. Our players don’t roll like that.”
Unfortunately, it was not so simple for the team to clear their name and show their condemnation of what happened in one fell swoop. The coaches held a virtual meeting with their players to discuss the situation, the only problem was there were many things they could not speak on for legal reasons. Redshirt sophomore safety Paul Olivett noted how the lack of ability to be open about what happened definitely caused frustration amongst the players.
“Our coaches condemned what happened, but they could not make any comments because the investigation was still ongoing,” said Olivett. “It was putting us in an awkward spot because nothing had come from the team publicly… The coaches were also in a tough spot because guys were looking for answers but they couldn’t really do anything.”
The team had not been around each other in quite some time, as the news broke during the peak of the semester’s Covid-19 outbreak. Marist released a statement about the incident, but the football program was overruled by the school and unable to release their own specific statement at that time. Facing criticism from peers, players took matters into their own hands to show adamant opposition to what their former teammate had done.
“We realized we will just have to put some stuff together by ourselves….I made a post and shared it with the rest of the team so they could post it themselves as well,” said Wright. “Some girls told me they were very appreciative of it. Even though we didn’t want to be put on a pedestal, we just wanted to let them know that it is not who we are as a team, program, and individually.”
While their words were appreciated, Wright, Olivett and the rest of the roster knew actions tend to speak louder. Over the next week the student-organized “Stand Up Speak Out” protest took place on the campus green over multiple days. It advocated for Marist to take more action with the Vargas situation and all similar occurrences in the future. Members of the football team did not want to miss their chance to physically show that they are an active ally to those committed to fighting domestic violence.
“I went to the Marist ‘It’s On Us’ chapter rally on a Wednesday, and we were there for about an hour,” said Olivett. “They wanted us to speak, and I spoke for about a minute… I can’t say there was a negative tone towards the football team or anything. They were supportive of us being there and glad we were there to say something.”
Wright attended all of the rallies, and was quite taken aback when he and the other members who attended were asked to speak.
“We were originally just there to show support, hold up our signs and represent the team…,” said Wright. “We were not expecting to speak and did not know what to say… but we were told just to say anything and it would mean a lot. It was going to be only one person who speaks but once one of us did, we got more and more motivated to say what was on our hearts and minds.”
Unsurprisingly, the team’s presence at the rallies garnered attention on social media. Wright became aware of those who remained hesitant to praise the team for their outspokenness and also disagreed with those who did. The main reasons some felt that way were that this is something they should have absolutely done in the wake of Vargas, and they should do more before being taken “off the hook” as a program on the whole.
“Knowing myself, I wasn’t there to be put on any pedestal,” said Wright. “We were there because we have mothers and sisters that care for us and we care for, and they could be put in that situation….We know we aren’t the heroes of the situation because that isn’t what it is. We just stood up for what was right and that is where our focus was.”
Wright remains in contact with the students who organized the protests and hopes to do more work with them in the future. He is also looking into what he can contribute to the Black Student Athlete Alliance. When asked about the football team and Marist’s ability to identify and prevent these acts in the future, Wright was optimistic.
“I feel like it shouldn’t take all those signatures and all those comments on Instagram for this to be recognized,” said Wright. “It shouldn’t have lingered on…. I hope the school makes women feel empowered on campus and that should be their main focus. Women make up the majority of our campus so there’s no way they should feel oppressed. If we all go about it that way then hopefully it’s better in the near future.”
The football team has finally returned to the field to start to make up for an unprecedented amount of lost practice time. Perhaps they can finally focus on next season, forget about their former teammate, and remember what they have learned and continue to use their position as athletes to be social activists as well.
Edited by Sam DiGiovanni and Jonathan Kinane
Photo from Marist Athletics