Maybe Charlie Strong really is that good.
That’s what the football pundits are saying after a season opener overtime victory by the unranked Texas Longhorns over number 10 Notre Dame, followed by a blowout victory over UTEP last weekend. Strong has taken heat from an unforgiving Longhorn Nation for the last two seasons, as he sought to make his mark on a historic program by insisting on core values before big wins.
What are those values? Honesty, no drugs or stealing, treating women with respect, and no guns.
“We’ve got our core values all over the building,” said Strong in July. Strong’s insistence that players treat women with respect got attention in his first few weeks in the job in 2014, when we wrote that his suspension of players involved in sexual assault charges provided strong cross-campus support for the UT organization Voices Against Violence. This program of peer education and advocacy was cited by President Obama as an example of good practices in dealing with college sexual assault.
Those who doubted that Strong could create a culture of non-violence and still have a victorious football program have been checked so far this season. (As one Facebook post put it, “When Charlie Strong wins, rapists lose!”) So it’s worth noticing that another Longhorn core value — no guns — also echoes efforts across the Forty Acres. Gun-Free UT, a broad coalition of faculty, students, alumni and parents united in their opposition to recent legislation allowing lethal weapons to be brought into classrooms, dorms, and other campus buildings, shares Coach Strong’s vision.
College athletes are some of the most visible members of the campus community, so when they set the bar high, it lifts us all. We saw how powerful student-athlete protests could be last year when dozens of black football players at the University of Missouri joined activists in calling for the resignation of the college president over racial tensions on campus. And just as Charlie Strong schooled Roger Goodell on how to handle the disgraceful scourge of violence against women in the NFL, football pros are joining their younger brothers in the NCAA in protest. Players for the Seahawks, Broncos and Dolphins have followed the example of Niners’ quarterback Colin Kaepernick, refusing to stand during the national anthem to protest the bloody tide of gun deaths of unarmed African-Americans.
In addition to celebrating Longhorn wins, our campus community has been reeling from the circulation of a vile Internet video depicting the murder of a student Gun Free UT activist. It’s no coincidence that among the most prominent student activists are young women of color like Jessica Jin, Elyse Avina, and Ana Lopez. They get it: the common denominator among all incidents of gun violence is the presence of guns. And groups that are already vulnerable — including students of color and women students—are most at risk when there are more guns on campus.
The “gundamentalists,” in their blind pursuit of a gun in every hand, dismiss well-founded research showing that violence against women, LGBT people, and people of color increases when guns are more easily available. They call for the elimination of licensing, background checks, and gun-free zones. Does that include the Longhorn locker room? Will they trample over Coach Strong’s professional opinion as they have over those of UT Chancellor McRaven, President Fenves, and the thousands of professors and staff members at UT who have roared their opposition to guns on campus?
Strong’s stance on guns is almost an exact inversion of the philosophy embraced by the Texas legislature. Our lawmakers have endeavored to make prohibitions on guns complex and burdensome, demanding that private businesses post enormous eyesore signs citing the entire text of Texas Penal Code 30.06 in English and Spanish if they want to opt out of “guns everywhere.” In contrast, Strong is simple and forthright—his firearms policy, in its entirety, reads “no guns.” And whereas Texas politicians are actively encouraging students to bring weapons to school, Strong discourages guns both on campus and off. “We expect our players to abide by those values,” Strong told ESPN, “not only on the field but off.”
We heard last week that members of the Longhorn Band, as legendary an organization as the football team itself, have requested Gun Free UT T-shirts. No word yet on whether they’ll be wearing them on national TV.
To Coach Strong and the team, we want you to know we’ve got your T-shirts for you too. Thanks for having our backs.
Moore is Archibald A. Hill Professor of English and Valentine is a lecturer in the Plan II Liberal Arts Honors Program at The University of Texas at Austin.