Success in Unity

Ricardo Lockette spurs conversation at Garfield.

Student athletes packed into the auditorium on Tuesday, December 6th, some eager to escape fourth period and others excited to celebrate new programs at Garfield. These programs, Coaching Boys into Men (CBIM) and Student Leaders and Athletic Youth (SLAY), promote sexual assault prevention and the rejection of gender stereotypes.

Retired Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Ricardo Lockette was the first of three guest speakers at the assembly. His speech appeared to be directed at the young male athletes in the audience, yet sparked great controversy among students, during and after the event. Lockette did not respond when asked to comment.


Sterling McLennan, an athlete and SLAY participant, explained that Lockette’s words were simply not meant for young women.


“He was speaking to the men and especially African American men who are told constantly that they are not going to be successful,” said McLennan. “He’s doing stuff beyond sports and a lot of the black kids here don’t get to hear in the public and media that [they] should be active in [their] community.”


Senior football captain Keith Edwards, a young black male, related personally to Lockette’s speech.


“Hearing what he has gone through it’s something that I am also going through, like struggling with the house and money,” said Edwards. “It made me think that there are people that I can listen to and it really inspires me.”


However, junior volleyball player Julia Olson questioned Lockette during his speech and an exchange between the two took place, that was the focus of KOMO News and The Seattle Times headlines. After the short discussion, Olson and other students, offended by what they perceived to be ‘patriarchal and misogynistic’ values, walked out.


Sophia Orlando, a junior wrestling captain, explained her initial reaction to Lockette’s speech, emphasizing that she quickly began to feel disheartened.


“At first I was a little confused and I think a lot of female athletes in the audience were confused too because in the SLAY program we just didn’t focus on females being victims,” said Orlando. “[Lockette] didn’t talk about the empowerment of women in athletics or in the school.”


Some young men also felt as if Lockette misunderstood the female empowerment and sexual assault prevention messages that SLAY and CBIM convey.


“He was reinforcing a lot of patriarchal views that were not really related to [Coaching] Boys into Men,” said cross country runner Henry Milodragovich.


However, some students believed that those who walked out were disrespecting Lockette and the athletes he addressed.


“[Garfield students] often feel like we should always speak up, which is great, but there is always a time and place for things like that,” said McLennan. “I commend [Julia] for speaking out, but it might not have been the best time to do so. You can’t do it in the middle if you haven’t heard the entire speech.”


After being ushered back in by administration, many of whom declined to comment, the students who walked out were booed by others in the crowd. Edwards experienced the discomfort felt by many in the audience.


“I didn’t feel the division until [the students who walked out] came back,” said Edwards. “That’s when the room was all separated. There were people that were with them and people that were against them.”


Although many audience members believe that there were misogynistic undertones to Lockette’s speech, some, including SLAY developer and leader Rebecca Milliman, recognize that there is a more complex issue at hand.


“I absolutely believe Ricardo Lockette came here with the best intentions and that he cares about this issue and the community,” said Milliman. “Unfortunately, his choice of certain words was off-message from the programs’. I can understand how this can happen especially on a topic that is difficult and personal for many people.


Milliman, the Prevention and Education Coordinator at the Harborview Center for Sexual Assault, has helped to implement both programs at Garfield this past year.


Following this heated event, many students challenged their own initial reactions.


Maya Bui, a junior volleyball player acknowledged that although much of what Lockette said offended her, his ideas were not meant to be harmful.


“I walked out, in the heat of the moment,” she said. “But throughout my day I realized I was also in the wrong because different oppressions shape the way you view your reality. I don’t think he meant to [offend people], there are just different cultural norms for different cultures.”


Milliman emphasized that for this reason, “It is important for us to really listen to the voices of youth, women, people of color, LGBTQ, and other marginalized communities. My hope is that we use this event as a catalyst and a tipping point for change. It is an opportunity to dig deeper and have more authentic conversations,” she said.


Amidst the audience, there were dozens of students who believed Lockette’s speech was coming from a place of sincerity and compassion. Lockette spoke of bringing the community together.


“He was right and [Julia] was right [about women being strong] because in both cases you need each other to be successful,” noted Edwards.


Many students seemed to reach a similar conclusion: everyone should consider all perspectives before determining how to react.


“I think the people who are claiming it very sexist need to reevaluate the situation and take a step back to see how other people think about it,” said Bui. “And the same thing goes for the people that booed the volleyball team who also need to reevaluate how it came across.”


The conversations that followed this controversy allowed students to reflect and better understand alternative perspectives. In the end, this connected to Lockette’s overall message about the importance of unity.
“I think Lockette was right in saying that one person [cannot succeed] and I agree with that, but that doesn’t mean that one’s voice needs to be silenced so that one can overtake the other,” said Orlando. “I think it’s more powerful if the voices are heard together.”