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Mayor of Birmingham advises Black athletes to avoid Alabama colleges if anti-DEI bill passes

Randall Woodfin said he would encourage Black athletes to avoid the state’s public colleges if a law passes ending DEI.
Mayor of Birmingham, Alabama Randall Woodfin attends Morehouse College 34th Annual "A Candle In The Dark" Gala at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta on Feb, 19, 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, at Morehouse College's "A Candle in the Dark" Gala in Atlanta on Feb, 19, 2022. Paras Griffin / Getty Images

Randall Woodfin, the mayor of Birmingham, Alabama, said on social media that if state lawmakers passed a bill barring diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs in the state’s public schools and universities, he would encourage parents of minority student-athletes to select colleges in states “where diversity and inclusion are prioritized.”

Woodfin was reacting to the state Senate’s approval this week of a bill that would also bar public schools from affirming “a divisive concept,” such as teaching that “slavery and racism are aligned with the founding principles of the United States” and that “fault, blame, or bias should be assigned to members of a race, color, religion, sex, ethnicity, or national origin, on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, ethnicity, or national origin.”

The bill would require a House vote before it can be signed into law by Gov. Kay Ivey, a Republican.

In Alabama, which is nearly 27% Black, college football is big business, with rivals the University of Alabama and Auburn University historically among the top programs in the country. In his post, Woodfin asked the “leadership, athletic directors and coaches” of those colleges whether they supported this proposed law. As of Friday, the schools had yet to publicly respond. 

Woodfin continued: “To the parents of minority athletes who are helping their children decide if they want to play sports at those institutions: Would you be cool with your child playing at schools where diversity among staff is actively being discouraged?

“Although I’m the biggest Bama fan, I have no problem organizing Black parents and athletes to attend other institutions outside of the state where diversity and inclusion are prioritized. If supporting inclusion becomes illegal in this state, hell, you might as well stand in front of the school door like Governor [George] Wallace,” a famously staunch segregationist. 

The praise and backlash for Woodfin were immediate. Birmingham resident Kena Clark, who has supported Woodfin since his 2017 election, said she stands with the mayor.

“He faces a lot of criticism for any position that he takes because he’s a Democrat in a Republican-run state,” Clark, a Birmingham area nonprofit founder, said Friday in a phone interview. She said Woodfin’s words show “his character and his caring about us as a people. He’s willing to face the criticism and stand up for what we deal with as Black people here.”

A Woodfin backer on X, formerly Twitter, CPaige, wrote that with as “much money as these Black athletes @ University of Alabama and Auburn University bring the state??? Risking life and limb on every play? Good work Mayor!”

In a statement, Shawyn Patterson-Howard, the mayor of Mount Vernon, New York, and the president of the African American Mayors Association, wrote, “When we strip our schools of diversity and opportunities to propel our young people forward, it makes sense for parents, students and athletes to seek better opportunities elsewhere.”

But proponents of the bill called DEI and Woodfin “racist,” among many other disparaging remarks. 

“You need to be worried more about all the violence and shootings in your city. Try fixing that instead of race hustling,” one Facebook commenter posted.

Another wrote, “DEI is a sham political ploy meant to divide.”

The legislation, sponsored by Republican Sen. Will Barfoot, also includes a “bathroom bill” that would prohibit individuals on college campuses from using a restroom that doesn’t correspond to their sex at birth; violators could be disciplined or fired. 

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