With four words, “Hate will never win,” the Nebraska men’s basketball team changed the game.
Rather than preaching division to address the controversy surrounding an avowed white nationalist student on campus, the Huskers shared a message of unity. Their simple phrase rang loud and clear – and, importantly, it did so without diminishing that student’s First Amendment rights.
The 16 Huskers are both black and white. They hail from Nebraska, six other states and three foreign countries. Despite all that could divide them, they shared a statement as one and became the voice for the entire University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus.
It began with a coordinated series of tweets last Thursday. Then, the team wore black-and-white warm-up shirts with the four-word phrase before Saturday’s game. The next day, the women’s basketball players donned the same warm-ups. The student section was set to follow suit with the same shirts at Tuesday’s contest.
In unison, they’ve echoed a message that doesn’t spread the hatred expressed by this student: White nationalism has no place on this campus.
To be clear, it has no place anywhere. Emblazoned on Nebraska’s state flag is the state’s motto, which is incompatible and antithetical to the beliefs of white nationalism: “Equality before the law.”
The hateful ideology of white nationalism is one of division. Those who espouse this view want irreparable fractures along racial lines rather than understanding – the best weapon to combat this deluded school of thought, be it rooted in ignorance or malice.
Yet, what’s often lost in this debate is that the self-proclaimed “most active white nationalist in the Nebraska area” has First Amendment rights to free speech and expression – no matter how vile his words are. Until he crosses the line into inciting violence or making threats, he remains protected by the Constitution, as UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green correctly noted last week.
Nothing, however, bars people from using their own First Amendment rights to counter these despicable views. Taking an admirable lead on that was the Husker men’s basketball team.
Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis wrote in 1927: "If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence."
The basketball players are using more speech – and better speech – from their position of prominence to remove the spotlight from the repugnant views of the white nationalist. Instead of making this student a martyr and a victim, he’s being made into an afterthought.
His message should go unheard and unheeded. Tolerance and respect will always triumph over cruelty and discrimination.
Indeed, hate will never win.