Amid the backdrop of nationwide protests following the death of George Floyd, an African American man who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer May 25, the Missouri State athletic department announced an educational initiative with an emphasis on race issues on Thursday, June 4.

The initiative currently is in the initial stages and has three main steps: mandatory diversity and sensitivity training for athletes on a yearly basis, a community engagement program to get MSU athletes involved in local schools to discuss race issues and a process for student athletes and other athletic staff to report discrimination.

“I was watching and reading a lot of things, and I just felt like it was important that we step up and be involved,” said Kyle Moats, director of athletics, in a Zoom call with media on Thursday.

Moats said A’jda Jones, director of student-athlete development and community engagement at MSU, will be heading up the initiative. Moats said Jones will have whatever resources she needs to advance it.

Moats said sensitivity training has happened in the past, but needed to be improved.

“We’ve had systems in place, but we’re just going to ramp it up,” Moats said. “We’ve had training, but it needs to be better. I want our folks to be better educated, and I want (sensitivity and diversity training) to be something that’s going to be an annual thing.”

Moats said the university’s previous discrimination reporting process was not specific to athletics, but the new process will be more effective.

“I want our student-athletes to know that they can go through athletics and we’re going to be behind them and support them,” Moats said of the new process.

In the past week, head basketball coach Dana Ford, head women’s basketball coach Amaka Agugua-Hamilton and head football coach Bobby Petrino all made tweets speaking out against racial injustice in America.

Dana Ford mentioned destroying a cycle of systematic racism in America, and Agugua-Hamilton said there needed to be more action than words in a time like this.

While those tweets did not prompt Moats to come up with the initiative, he said they make it all the more impactful.

“Our coaches are extremely involved in this,” Moats said. “I think it just made sense for us to do this because we have a lot of buy-in. It’s important for our community and our university. I just felt that we needed to do something more because we could.”

Throughout the Zoom call, Moats emphasized the importance of MSU student-athletes being involved with young students in Springfield.

“I want it to involve kids that our student athletes can engage with, and I think the younger we can start the better this will be,” Moats said. “We still have to train ourselves and our student athletes, and that’s going to take time before we can mobilize and get out (in the community).”

Taking time to train athletes to discuss (race issues) will be an important step in being effective teachers on race issues.

“These issues are really high level,” Moats said of racism in America. “All of us have a tough time with these issues. We’re going to have to put it on (a kids) level, so they understand it.”

Moats said in the future there will be more phases and steps added to make the initiative more effective.