Utah Governor Spencer Cox has kicked off a storm after stating that a new scholarship program offered exclusively to “persons of color” by his state’s NBA team, the Utah Jazz, does not discriminate against white students.
The first-term Republican governor made the remarks on Thursday in response to a question posed on ‘Let Me Speak to the Governor’ – his monthly meet-the-people segment on KSL NewsRadio. The caller had asked whether or not the program was racist and what the governor was going to do about it.
Noting that he was “very proud” of the Jazz’s “awesome program,” Cox said, “I don’t think it is racist… Looking for ways to lift communities that have been historically and disproportionately impacted isn’t racist at all.”
“I’ll tell you what I’m going to do about the Utah Jazz. Absolutely nothing! I believe… in the freedom of businesses to make decisions that are right for them,” he added.
In January, Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith had announced an initiative to award a full four-year higher education scholarship to a student from an underrepresented or minority community in Utah every time the basketball team won a game this NBA season.
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Currently, the Utah Jazz have the best win-loss record in the league and 30 scholarships – officially called the Utah Jazz Scholarship – have been pledged for the upcoming academic season. The remainder – the team’s number of wins presently stands at 44 (including preseason games) – will be given out for the next academic year.
The eligibility criteria for the scholarship state that applicants must be a “person of color” with preference given to those with “demonstrated financial need” and “first-generation college students.”
Applicants also have to talk about how they overcame obstacles, what they hope to accomplish and who their major influences are.
“The Utah Jazz and Ryan Smith can do the things that they want to with their funds… The Utah Jazz have more wins than any team in the nation. That means there are more scholarships available for kids in our state and those kids are [from] at-risk communities, kids who have struggled, who have not had access to the opportunities that my kids and your kids have had,” Cox said.
The comments sparked strong, if generally mixed, reactions on Cox’s official social media pages. Several users asked if he would have the same response to a similar “whites-only” program. Many asked whether “disadvantaged white kids” do not face problems of access and opportunity as well.
That's the definition of racism.
Exchange the word "white" with any other race and he'd be done for
— Gleyber With No Brim (@Saquon_Gleyber) April 15, 2021
To me this is simple…If the Utah Jazz had a scholarship program that was only for whites what would be the response?
— Dirk Worner (@dw8287) April 15, 2021
Others agreed with the governor in that the scholarship was an example of “affirmative action” that filled a need for programs geared towards providing opportunities to minority students.
When a country has been targeting people of color for hundreds of years to impact them negatively, there is a need for programs that specifically seek out and provide them with opportunities.
— Eric (@egep213) April 15, 2021
The whole point is that is HAS BEEN REVERSED AND IS STILL REVERSED. This is not racism, this is affirmative action and closing the educational gap between students.
— obi toppin enthusiast (@NYKnicksForever) April 16, 2021
In a subsequent tweet from his personal account, Cox said, “I hope you will take time to listen to what I actually said. But look folks, if you’re outraged by a private individual trying to help disadvantaged minority kids go to college, then I’m definitely not your guy.”
He also asked people to view the whole segment for “context” on his comments.
Neither the Utah Jazz nor its ownership and players have commented on the governor’s remarks.
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