Evann Smith, a sophomore goalkeeper on the UCSB women’s soccer team who helped start a GoFundMe account that raised nearly $80,000 for the Black Lives Matter movement following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, has been named the vice-chair of a diversity, equity and inclusion committee formed by the Big West Conference.

Evann Smith

Evann Smith

Working under the name “Big West Undivided,” the committee is comprised of one administrator and one student-athlete from each of the 11 member institutions of the conference.

The chair is UC San Diego Director of Athletics Earl Edwards.

UCSB’s administrator member on the committee is Christina Baglas, the deputy athletics director for development.

The formation of Big West Undivided is the conference’s united front to combat racism, fight for social justice, and proudly support the Black Lives Matter movement and other nonviolent organizations alongside its coaches and student-athletes, said the conference.

Big West Commissioner Dan Butterly said, “The significant leadership provided by our student-athletes provides the opportunity for the Big West Conference to have a voice, contribute to the discussion, provide solutions and have a positive impact on combating hate, racism, discrimination and inequality.” 

Smith decided to make an impact after watching a video of Floyd’s death.

She and a couple of UCSB teammates came up with the idea of the GoFundMe for BLM and the drive-the-point-home athletic event of running, walking, biking, or swimming 8.46 miles, the number referring to the 8 minutes, 46 seconds that Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on the neck of Floyd, an unarmed black man.

The group took their ideas to social media and they went viral.

“When I saw the video of George Floyd’s murder, I was really sad and angry. It was really hard to see that happen,” Smith, a resident of Santa Clarita, said on the podcast Just Women’s Sports. “And then I saw the protests. I felt frustrated and helpless because I couldn’t attend any big protest in Los Angeles, because my parents thought it was dangerous.

“Then, I got a text in our team group chat that Lauren Moss and Hannah Wendelken had come up with the idea to run for Black Lives Matter. That idea morphed into ‘Athletes for Changes.’”

The GoFundMe account was created on June 2 and $79,278 was raised by mid-July. 

“Our initial goal was to raise $1,000. It blows my mind that we have $79,000 now. I feel blessed to be a part of it and blessed that the team was able to organize together,” said Smith.

She said they included the athletic activity because “it’s what we know best and because a lot of people can relate to it,” she told Just Women’s Sports. “People ask, ‘Wow, you’re about to run 8.46 miles. For what?’ When we say that we are doing it for Black Lives Matter, they understand and want to get behind it. It really shows how far you can go to do something for a good cause.”

She was overwhelmed by the participation in the 8.46 mile event from all over the country.

“People were doing it in groups and they were expanding on the concept,” she said. “I saw one athletic trainer who was doing 8.46 workouts and circuits. It was incredible to see people take our 8.46-mile run and put it in their own realm. It inspired me to do more and to keep pushing. We’re going to keep on moving forward and forward, until there is actual change in this country.”

On being selected as the vice chair of Big West Undivided, Smith said that “athletes across the world are fueled with passion to fight for equality and against injustices.

“Big West Undivided is a vessel for student-athletes and staff alike to inspire and create sustainable change inside our athletic communities. It is extremely invigorating to be a part of a committee that is action-oriented and filled with determined members.”

In the coming months, the committee will work with the conference’s Student Athlete Advisory Committee on voter initiatives encouraging student-athletes to take part in the electoral process by providing nonpartisan resources and registration information.

Noozhawk sports editor Barry Punzal can be reached at bpunzal@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk Sports on Twitter: @NoozhawkSports. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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Barry Punzal, Sports Editor

— Noozhawk sports editor Barry Punzal can be reached at bpunzal@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk Sports on Twitter: @NoozhawkSports. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.