Governor Spencer Cox took a call during a the "Let Me Speak to the Governor" question period on a local radio station KSL on Thursday from a constituent who was concerned about the Utah Jazz's new scholarship program. The scholarship program, implemented by the basketball this year, promised a college scholarship to a student of color for every win the franchise earned.
The caller, announced as David from Highland, asked "The Utah Jazz is excluding white children from consideration for their scholarship program. Do you think this is racist? And what would you do to prevent the Utah Jazz from acting in this racist manner?"
"Well I don't think it's racist," Cox began. "I think it's in response to unfortunately some very racist injustices that have happened for a long time. And I'll tell you what I'm gonna do for the Utah Jazz: absolutely nothing.
"Because y'know what? I believe in the Constitution and I believe in the freedom of, of businesses to make decisions, and decisions that are right for them. Your kid or my kid, they, they have no right to the Utah Jazz's money, and the Utah Jazz and Ryan Smith can do the things that they want to do with their, with their funds and their revenues."
"And look, it's an awesome program, it's something that we should be celebrating. the cool thing is that the Utah Jazz have more wins than any team in the nation, which means that there are more scholarships available for kids in our state," Cox continued.
"And those kids are, look. These are kids who are in at-risk communities. These are kids who have struggled. These are kids who have not had access to the same opportunities that my kids and your kids have had.
"You know we live in a nation that does have a very difficult history and sometimes we try to ignore it. A history of racial injustice, a history where, where, where. Of course, slavery being the most severe and awful example of that.
"But that stuff just doesn't go away overnight and kids that—we're working very hard on, on equity, making sure that every kid in our state has the same opportunities as others. And so looking for ways to lift communities that have been historically and disproportionately impacted isn't racist at all. In fact it's a great way to overcome racist [sic]. In fact I'm really proud of the Jazz and the great things they're doing there," Cox said.
For Cox, discriminating against one group of children based on their skin color and lifting up another group because of theirs isn't racist, but equitable. While Cox doesn't appear to believe that children are responsible for past inequality, he does seem to think that they should be held accountable for its ill-effects.
While he notes that he'd like to make "sure that every kid in our state has the same opportunities as others," he also says that it's perfectly fine if not every kid in the state has the same opportunities as others, because of historical inequity. Perhaps Cox believes that this is a necessary correction to ameliorate the legacy of slavery.
Cox may be clear on his points, as may be many of his constituents, but for others, whether they be David from Highland or casual onlookers from Twitter, it could be a hard sell to exclude children from academic and financial benefits on the basis of their skin color alone.
The program was announced in January by Ryan Smith, the new owner of the Jazz, on a podcast with Adrian Wojnarowski on ESPN. The initiative, Smith said, was to award "someone from an underrepresented or minority community in Utah every time the team won a game. The Jazz have a distinctly winning record, and have pledged dozens of scholarships so far.
Jazz head coach Quin Snyder smoke positively about the program, saying that "It was something that the players were really excited about when they heard about it."
"Obviously any extra motivation [to win] is welcome," Snyder said. "I think just in general giving a young man or young woman the opportunity to develop, evolve and embrace education is something that's incredibly important, and the diversity component benefits everybody." Perhaps Snyder should have said "almost everybody" instead.
The awarded scholarships will cover tuition, books, fees and room and board for the student's full undergraduate education at specified Utah schools.
The criteria for an award are that the student must be a person of color, a graduate of a Utah school, and enrolling as a freshmen during the specified semester. Additional preference among those students of color who submit at application will be given according to a demonstrated financial need, or to those who are the first in their families to attend a university.
The application process requires an essay in which the student must "talk about an obstacle you faced and how [they] overcame it," what they hope to accomplish after graduating college, or about someone who has had a major influence in the student's life. In addition to the scholarship award, students will be offered "guidance and assistance in the form of mentorships, job shadowing, and internship and job placement support," and "have opportunities to meet representatives of the Jazz organization and attend annual gatherings of the scholarship recipients."
Highland, where the caller was from, has a median annual income that is a little more than $130,000, which is about $72,000 more than the national median. Utah itself has a population that is more than 89 percent white, with Hispanics at 13 percent, Asians almost 3 percent, black Americans comprise 1.5 percent, and Native Americans at 1.6 percent, according to the last round of census data.
Utah became a territory of the US after the Mexican-American War in 1852, and slavery was legal there, though reportedly "not widespread." That proviso was repealed in 1862, when Congress banned slavery in all US territories. The region attained statehood in 1896.
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