Former football players to share experiences with athletics, activism


Eric Mayes experienced the University of Michigan as a Black student and later a Black student-athlete.


Mayes, co-captain of U-M’s 1997 national championship football team, will bring those vantage points to his role as moderator of “Intersection of Black Lives: Demystifying Black student and student-athlete experiences,” as part of the annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Symposium.

The virtual event is from 5:30-7 p.m. Jan. 27 and is the result of a partnership between the Alumni Association, the Football Alumni of Michigan and the University of Michigan Black Alumni Association. Registration is open until Jan. 26, and registrants can submit questions through registration by Jan. 25 or during the event through a live question-and-answer tool. The event features the following panelists:

  • Jehu Chesson, a wide receiver from 2013-16 who grew up in Liberia.
  • Dennis Franklin, the first Black quarterback at U-M, who played from 1971-74.
  • Dhani Jones, a linebacker from 1997-99 who played on the national championship team of 1997.
  • Rod Payne, a center at U-M from 1993-96.

Mayes spent a year as a U-M student before walking on to the football team in the spring of 1995. Two years later the team went undefeated, winning the Rose Bowl and a national championship.

“It’s great to give people an inside look across multiple eras of what it was like for many African-American student-athletes, particularly those that played U-M football, which is often seen as the front door of the university,” Mayes said.

“African-American football players have had a unique experience, especially if examined in parallel with the civil rights and social and racial justice movements that have touched the lives of Black men on campus at every one of these eras.”

Jason Cummings, programming chair for FAM, organized the panel with an eye toward representing as many of those eras as possible.

“The ecosystem of a football player on campus is not just football. The experience of a football player is also influenced by academics, campus culture and socio-economic standing. These factors can drive very unique individual experiences within a team that can vary depending on the era,” said Cummings, who played football at U-M from 1996-98.

“FAM promotes inclusiveness and unity among the Michigan football alumni base. That’s the energy we wanted to bring to the symposium. By partnering with AAUM and UMBA, we were able to create a forum for football players across different generations to share their story.”

The event is the first of a two-part series, the second taking place Feb. 18 and featuring athletes from sports besides football.

“It will be wonderful to hear from former student-athletes how they addressed social injustice even while they were on campus, what happened after graduation and how their time at U-M impacted that social activism,” said Ayanna McConnell, executive director of university/student engagement and LEAD scholars for the Alumni Association.

“We want to create a space for students and student-athletes to understand each other’s experiences, and hear how alumni have stayed connected through networks like UMBA, the Alumni Association and FAM.”


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