Story Highlights• "Would you have wanted your daughter to have been called that?"
• "It's not about women's basketball, it's about women"
• "It has never just been a basketball game here for us."
• Coach blasts defense Imus uses that his show is just comedy
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(CNN) -- Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer spoke Tuesday about radio commentator Don Imus' remarks about her team. This is a partial transcript of her speech:
They are young ladies of class, distinction. They are articulate, they are brilliant, they are gifted. They are God's representatives in every sense of the word.
You see, what you don't realize, perhaps some of you don't realize, that less than a year ago, five of these young ladies were preparing to graduate from high school.
There are five freshmen here. And as they prepared to graduate from high school, they thought about what great opportunity they were going to have to come to Rutgers University and get an education, and play at the highest levels. That's what they thought.
And before you know it, less than a year, they found themselves on the national stage playing for the world to see, basketball at its highest level, and which, I might add, that this freshman class has over a 3.0 grade-point average.
This group of young, innocent women are bright, gifted, hard-working, and they have persevered through much.
And while all of you come to find and talk about this great story, or this story, the Don Imus story, in the translation you have lost really what this is really all about, because, you see, at the beginning of the year, we were humiliated as we lost a 40-point game right here in this arena to the No. 1 team in the country.
That was followed by losses to the University of (INAUDIBLE).
But through perseverance and hard work, determination, during the Christmas holidays they spent eight to 10 hours working and going through films and studying and working so hard to become all of what they could be. And ultimately, they ended up playing for the national championship. No one believed in them but them.
That's the greatest story.
'So hurt' by Imus
And so while they were presented before the nation as one to see and for one to realize that it doesn't matter where you come from, but where you're going, it doesn't matter where you start it, but how you end it, because that is the story, perseverance, hard work, determination. This group of classy young women in all that they do have represented all of us in such a classy manner that I have nothing but pride, pride and respect for them.
You know, it was amazing, because less than 24 hours after they had accomplished so much, and when we should have come back to Rutgers to have all the people exult and speak of all the things that they had accomplished and all the hopes and dreams that they gave to so many young girls and to young people, and to people everywhere, all of you, about what it meant to work hard, they came back to this. We have all been physically, mentally, and emotionally spent, so hurt by the remarks that were uttered by Mr. Imus.
But, you see, we also understood a long time ago that, you know what? No one can make you feel inferior unless you allow them, that we can't let other people steal our joy. We've always understood that for a long, long time.
My role as a coach is one to love, nurture, discipline, teach and prepare our young women for leadership roles in this society. And that I am sure of. And all that we do and all the travels that we have had, this group of young women have been presented as nothing less than class in every aspect of all that they do.
And while they've worked hard in the classroom and accomplished so much, and used their gifts and talents, you know, to bring the smiles and the pride within this state and so many people, we had to experience racist and sexist remarks that are deplorable, despicable and abominable, and unconscionable.
Coach defied discrimination
And it hurts me, because, you know, as I was telling them, as a 16-year-old little girl, if you might -- I might add, I was -- I was a victim of racial discrimination. But, you see, I had a father and a mom and I had a group of people that stood up for me.
You see, because we had never had a cheerleader at my school, never had a minority cheerleader. And so there was a gentleman that came to my house late after my father had come home from the coal mine and he said to my father -- he said, "Buddy, your daughter was not only one of the best cheerleaders, she was clearly the best." And I listened to this upstairs and I was nervous and I was afraid.
And he said, "Please, allow us to have her presented before the school board because she has excellent grades. And she was not one of the best, she was clearly the best. We've never had a minority cheerleader at this high school."
And so as my father approached me about this, I said no. And he said some things that would ring true to me and was a life-altering experience. And he said to me, "Vivian, if you don't stand up for something, you'll fall for anything."
"And you know what? This might not be about you or for you, but it is for future generations of young women that you need to take a stand. And I'll leave you with that. Go to sleep and make your decision in the morning."
Oh, I thought, and I couldn't sleep that night, I was so nervous. I hadn't done anything wrong. I'd just been as good as I could possibly be.
Yes, I allowed myself to be presented before the school board and, yes, I was placed on the cheerleading squad. And we became the best of friends, my cheerleading friends and I. And our school was healed and there became future generations of cheerleaders and majorettes and the like.
So, as I felt what Mr. Imus said, I experienced this not only as a coach and as a mom to them, but as a person who had also experienced the same. And I hurt, yes, and I've cried, and I've been angry and disappointed, because I don't understand all of that.
And yet, to a great extent I do. I do. Because in my mind, there's time for change.
'This is about all women'
You see, because it is not about these young women. The truth of the matter is that, I would ask you, whether you're a businessman, whether you're a camera person, whether you're a government official or whatever, who amongst you could have heard the comments and not been personally offended?
It's not about the Rutgers women's basketball team, it's about women. Are women hos? Think about that. Would you have wanted your daughter to have been called that? It's not about they as black people or as nappy headed, it's about us as a people, black, white, purple or green.
And I want to suggest that as much as I speak about that, the truth of the matter is, that it is not even black and white; the color is green. The color is green. You see, because if we can tolerate as a society what has just taken place, the remarks that have been directed toward young women. I don't know how anyone could have heard this and not been personally hurt and offended.
When there is not equality for all, or when there's been denied equality for one, there's been denied equality for all. These young ladies have done nothing wrong.
Some of you might point to, well, you know what, he makes comments about other political figures or other professionals. These aren't political figures, nor are they professionals; these are hard-working, 18, 19, 20-year-old young women who came here to get an education and use their gifts for all to see.
These are the young women that little girls look up to, and we as adults, at what point in life do we not call upon people to stop, stop and reflect because there is a bigger issue here. It's more than the Rutgers women's basketball team. It is all women athletes. It is all women.
Have we lost a sense of our own moral fiber? Has society decayed to such a point that we could forgive and forget because, you know what, it was just a slip of the tongue? I'm going to suggest that bright-thinking people give thought before they speak. And if a person is put in the position to allow their voice, voices to be heard across the airwaves, those that employ them need to give thought and consideration to those people who speak for all of us.
Do they speak for us?
When the parents, high school coaches, AAU coaches, entrusted their daughters to me as a coach, I love them, I cherish them, I appreciate the privilege that I have. I am to prepare them for the world. You see, because here at Rutgers University the Scarlet Knights are just not playing basketball games; we're preparing for life. We're preparing for leadership roles in societies.
'It has never been just a game'
It has never just been a basketball game here for us. It has always been about life.
And we were so excited, my coaches and I, as we sat and called so many recruits and their families spoke to us and they were so excited. Because you know what, they saw class. They saw this team distinguish themselves amongst all the best, because you know what, what they saw is the same team that had suffered a 40-point loss persevere and end up beating the same team, Duke, the No. 1 team in the country, on Duke's floor.
They saw this team that heard, well, you know what, the NCAA said, well, you know what, in order for you to compete, you must go to Michigan State or Michigan, Michigan State, and you'll play before 15,000 people. If you're that good, you'll overcome that. This group did. And then they said, you know what, now you'll go to North Carolina and take on the mighty Duke. If you're to get to the finals, just to get an opportunity. They did, much to the amazement of the entire nation.
And then, as it would say on the banner, then there were four, they would play the mighty LSU, the team that in fact had defeated Tennessee a week before. All the pundits would say, this is not possible for this group of five freshmen and five upperclassmen, of which there are no seniors. One of the players, Matee Ajavon, only joined us two months late because she had a rod placed in the middle of her knee, or leg, just before the start of the season. That's not possible. And yet they did.
And then in so doing, they broke all kinds of NCAA records for defense. They showed the world that it's not about where you come from, but where you're going. It's not about how you start but how you finish. They restored my faith and confidence as a coach. They have given me life. I have been privileged. I honor and I respect that parents would entrust their daughters to me at such a delicate age, between 18 and 22. We as coaches have the last chance to touch these young people as they go on to make -- and point them in the right direction for society.
So I would ask all of us as adults, what is this really all about? Are we not responsible as an educational institution, as adults here? Are we not responsible for nurturing their dreams and supporting them? Because it's all too often that society is pointing at all the bad things that young people do. What happens when young people do good things and do the right things? Are we as adults responsible enough to stand up for what is right? That's what I would ask everyone.
Is there malice in my heart? No, I'm hurt. But I do recognize that this issue speaks to a bigger issue. To utter such despicable words are not right, whether spoken by black, white, purple or green, male or female, tall or short, skinny or fat, whatever, it is not right. It's time for everybody to reflect on what is going on. Oh, it's time, ladies and gentlemen, it's been time. And as I said to this young group of people. I've had the privilege of taking four teams -- three teams to the final four.
The first time I took a team was at Cheney University, but I wasn't able to experience that with great joy because my heart was heavy. My daughter was stricken with meningitis and has been confined to a wheelchair since she's been 14 months.
The second time was at the University of Iowa. My husband suddenly died of a heart attack. And that same year I was to go to a Final Four. My heart has never been light in going to a Final Four. But in coming to Rutgers, thank God, we were able to go to a final four in the year 2000. But we never got to the championship game.
It took me personally 25 years to come to a championship game.
And for once, as I explained to my colleagues, my God, this was a team that had so little, that gave so much. This was a team that was so young that wasn't supposed -- they accomplished more in one year than any team that I've ever seen or ever coached. This was the team that would restore all of our faith and confidence in young people, because they didn't really know what hard work was about. They didn't really know what discipline was all about. Many of them were just experiencing college life for the first time.
But you know what, they grew. They matured. They have always been great students. They learned to work together. They were stripped of everything that they had, their locker room, their clothing, until they learned to function as a team.
Yes, they grew and they became one mighty powerful group. A group of young women that I know that their parents would be so proud. And I know their parents are proud. And as I said to them, your parents have a right to be hurt and angry, because they've made major sacrifices to give them an opportunity to come to this university.
Rutgers University has had a proud tradition for many years as being one of the highest academic universities in this country, make no mistake about that.
These young ladies get it done on both sides. And if we can't support them, I don't know who we support. And I say to them, to their parents, I thank them for entrusting me with their lives. I understand the magnitude of my responsibility.
And with every breath in my body, I will defend them because I am honored, I am proud, so very proud and so fortunate that the good lord has allowed me to be a coach. That's an awesome responsibility.
And so to my coaches and to my team, I thank them. They have no reason to drop their heads. We hold our heads high with dignity, and as my father said, with respect for ourselves. And I ask that everyone, everyone who can hear my voice, please, understand that we all need to make changes.
We all need to make changes. Yes, it happens to be Mr. Imus, but beyond Mr. Imus, it's all of us. Do we understand what's going on in our society?
And maybe these young people who taught us, you know, how to be winners on the basketball court can also serve as examples as winners, in life. You know, in the Bible they say, even the child shall lead. Perhaps the babes will lead. These are smart ladies. These are classy young women. These are very bright young women.
And I am thankful to this University for allowing me to serve as their coach and to all of the people that have been associated with them. And I trust that our president, our governor, our athletic director will continue to lead, support, respect, honor and defend these young ladies.
And to all of you, I say thank you very much. You're going to hear from two of the young people that we've chosen to serve as spokespeople for you. And I sincerely thank all of you for being here tonight. Thank you.
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