Opinion Submission: I was at the Wallys, the media was not
First let me say that I am in no defense of Goutham Sundara's speech, and I beg that the community does not label me as someone on a "side". I am a woman of color on the track team (yes, the school has a track team, even if the Wally's never recognized it), so this speech was the most offended I'd been in awhile. However, I am not writing this to talk about how it hurt me personally. I personally don't believe that Olivia Sanchez's opinion piece was a broad enough perspective to represent the evening, and especially not enough to enrage an entire campus, many of which, never even heard the speech they are so enraged about.
The entire day after the Wally's I heard people calling for protests, expulsion, ect. These are powerful ideas with real life consequences, based almost entirely off of one article that was written by someone who did not even see the entirety of the speech. USA today wrote a piece on Goutham's speech in which Olivia's opinion article was their only reference. The New York Post has done the same. I believe everyone is entitled to their own opinion and I congratulate Olivia for sharing her experience so boldly, as that’s what these articles are for, and more people should do the same. However, there were two statements in it that I cannot let stand as they were written in her article. With no discredit to Olivia, as her opinions were reasonable and valid, these are some things people should know or at least see another side of.
In the opinion piece, Olivia states that "Sundaram was appointed emcee for the event by the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, or SAAC". This is blatantly untrue. I am a member of SAAC and was in attendance for the meeting in which we voted for the nominees. I'm not sure who chose Goutham, but I can tell you with confidence that, as a committee, we never made that decision.
I also feel a need to address the depiction of Coach Rob Conner. It should be said that if Olivia claimed to leave before the awards began, then she was not present for this part of the evening. While she likely got a detailed description from her teammates, hearing a person's tone and seeing their expression is very important in understanding the intent of their words. At this point in the night, the entire crowd was hushed and uncomfortable. Coach Rob was the first person to address this, and while maybe he did not condemn the opening speech as well as he could have, he also was not expecting to win an award and be on a stage.
I actually appreciated that in the few seconds he had to come up with something, he decided to try and refocus the event on its purpose of recognizing the hard work of student athletes. I am certain that very few people in his situation could have come up with something appropriate to say after such a shocking and unexpected speech. He was trying to do what many of us wanted to do — not allow the offensive comments to take away from the people being honored that night.
Students and media who were not there need to understand that everyone at Wally's had different experiences. Some people were offended to the point that they felt the need to leave, but this was not the experience for most of the guests. If you were not there to see it, then you have no way of knowing how you would have reacted. You may have felt differently about it than the one or two opinions you read. Having an opinion on Olivia's article, and being upset for the way Goutham's words made her feel, is valid. However, exclaiming someone not walk at graduation because of a speech you read an opinion about in uninformed and unfair. I beg more student-athletes to give their account of the night, as the recent articles coming out about it have shown me first hand how the media and public so easily changes and overshadows the truth of what it was really like at the 2018 Wally's.