Lawrence has been the biggest name — if not always the biggest contributor, he noted — among college athletes finding a voice on issues off the field. He helped organize a student-led protest against police brutality in June, pushed for student-athletes’ voices to be heard as school presidents decided in August whether a season should be played, and he contributed in the recent #OurVoiceMatters movement that offered concrete steps toward addressing racism.
It’s a role Lawrence said that he’s taken on in support of his teammates, but he wants to avoid the political connotations that often come with taking a stand.
“I’m not a civil rights activist or an activist in general,” Lawrence said Tuesday. “I just think we all carry a responsibility based on who you are and what your platform is. For the love of my teammates and friends, family, everyone I know, I think it’s part of my responsibility to try to help any way I can. …
“I know there’s a lot of eyes on me. Critics, but also a lot of younger generation people looking up to me, so I’m conscious of that. I want to use my platform the right way and try to impact people. I’m not an activist of any sorts, but I do think I have a responsibility to promote equality and help the people I love.”
The #OurVoiceMatters statement was created by more than two dozen current college athletes, Lawrence said, including teammates Darien Rencher and Cornell Powell, as well as Oregon’s Penei Sewell and Kayvon Thibodeaux, among others. Lawrence called the demands, which included time allowed for athletes to vote, community outreach programs and raising awareness on game days through shirts, helmets and decals, as steps that “we should already have been doing” to bring about change.
Lawrence said the group of athletes working on the statement represented many different viewpoints, but the quick and concise action taken offers a blueprint for others to make progress, too.
“Through all this, we’ve tried to just say, ‘I know we have some differences, but let’s try to find some things we all agree on,’ and how do we start change from there,” Lawrence said. “I think it’s powerful that we’ve been able to make decisions pretty quickly as a group from all over the country to make things happen. That’s where you have to start, is to find common ground and understand people’s differences, but leave room for people to learn and change their mind and maybe say, ‘I thought this way before but I’ve kind of changed my mind.’
“We want to create a situation where people can grow. We don’t want to put pressure on people to all change at the same time. But I think we can all agree the country’s not in a great place right now. There’s a lot of room for growth.”
Many of the same players who worked on the #OurVoiceMatters statement also created a social media push to be allowed to play this season as school presidents around the country met to discuss the viability of the 2020 season. In doing so, Lawrence in particular, drew national headlines when President Donald Trump tweeted that the Clemson quarterback had phoned the White House to discuss the need for college football this season.
Despite that, Lawrence said he’s hoped to avoid allowing his statements to be politicized.
“I don’t want to ever be used as a political pawn,” Lawrence said. “I want to see the advancement of all people. I want people to be equal. That’s where I stand, so I felt like some of the things I’ve done are the best ways I can support my teammates. It’s not like I’m necessarily aligning with one side of politics or the other. It’s just that I love my teammates and I love my friends and I see they’re hurting, so how can I support them emotionally and publicly?”
As a team, Lawrence said Clemson has several projects in the works to showcase their push for social justice this season, some of which he said would be obvious when the Tigers open the season Saturday against Wake Forest.
Lawrence joked that “so many things have happened” this offseason, but he said he’s in a markedly better place now than he was a year ago entering the season fresh off a national championship. Lawrence talked openly last year about the pressure of a repeat performance rattled him early on in 2019, but he said he feels completely prepared for the season.
“We’re in a really good place,” Lawrence said. “There’s been a lot going on, but now we can really focus on football. We obviously have these other things we’re looking to do down the line, but I think we’ve all decided as a team it’s time to play.”