As a high school senior Zack Sanchez was looking forward to his college career at Oklahoma. The only concern he had was getting playing time once he got there.
Now, as a junior and one of the veterans on the team, Sanchez is amazed where he and the football program finds itself today. More than two weeks removed from watching a video in which a fraternity said no one who looked like him could ever be a member, Sanchez and his teammates have emerged from the ordeal not just wanting to get back to business as usual. They want to make a difference in changing the culture at their school.
“It's crazy,” Sanchez said. “We were at Ty's (Darlington) house when it was all happening. We committed here three years ago. Who knew we would be in this position. But it's a blessing to be able to be a part of it and to be an activist for a change. We're blessed to be in this position. We're happy going forward and the things that are going to change.”
The Sooners returned to the practice field Monday for the first time since the video of the former Oklahoma Chapter of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity made its way to the public March 8. The use of a racial slur during a chant by the SAE members stirred outrage across the nation. It did the same inside the Sooners locker room.
Because of that, the Sooners weren't ready to just go back to spring practice two weeks ago. They went through a couple of silent protest with the coaches on the field but sat out the rest of football activities that week before heading into spring break.
However, they had some things to work out among themselves first.
“We sat in this room, 105 of us, for about 14 hours over two days,” Darlington said. “That's all we did. All 105 guys very passionately debating what was the right thing to do, how to go forward. I was so inspired by the guys on our team. This legitimately almost tore us apart. It's such a divisive issue. Instead it really brought us together that is unparalleled in my time here. I've never seen anything like it. The room was very much split on what was the right thing to do going forward. Some people said I just came here to play football. But guys said, maybe I don't feel what you're feeling, but you're my teammate. I support you no matter what. That was big for us.”
Some of the things they came up with was to wear black and white jerseys to practice. OU's coach Bob Stoops wouldn't say how long that would last but that it was something the team felt strong about doing.
According to the Sooners, they want to be part of the solution to stamping out racism on college campuses.
“Everything we do for the rest of the spring, we're going to open it up with a statement about what's going on,” Darlington said. “Not talking about SAE. Talking about racism on college campuses. Promoting awareness for that and trying to make a positive change. Just continue to try and keep it in peoples mind. Because when these type of things happen, people get really excited about it, get really emotional about it for a coupe of days maybe a couple of weeks. But then the passion fades away then maybe the change doesn't happen like you'd want it to.”
In the teams first media session not everyone was as vocal as Sanchez and Darlington. Freshman Samaje Perine just wanted to talk about football, learning the new offense under coordinator Lincoln Riley and getting into full pads Wednesday.
Eric Striker didn't have a statement and said he would leave that up to Darlington. But he did say wearing the new black jerseys signifies what the team is about going forward.
“That's just to bring awareness for our stand for positive change,” Striker said. “Wearing black and white, bring people together. That's what we're trying to do.”
It was brought up to Sanchez that some people may see the football team being hypocritical in the fact they are taking a stance on racism, but have players on the roster who have gotten into trouble in other areas.
“As athletes, we're held to a higher standard as it is already,” Sanchez said. “We discussed that as a team. Guys aren't going to tip toe around, but know how to conduct ourselves and behave.”
Despite the changes the Sooners want to see take place, their school does have an image problem that they have to deal with. Sanchez had a message to the recruits who are looking at Oklahoma.
“Don't let a group of people ruin it for the whole university,” Sanchez said. “I love this university. It doesn't just happen on this university. It happens everywhere. But this is a close knit university. The people love us. The fans love us. Most of the students love us. But it happens. It's just something that happened. I don't think anybody should question coming here. We want to change that culture.”