116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
INDIANAPOLIS — A couple months before his junior season was supposed to start, Kaevon Merriweather posted a tweet early on a Monday and then didn’t look at his phone for a while.
The Iowa safety’s June 2020 tweet, after more than 50 former players spoke out with allegations of racial issues in the program, asked fans to “not support us during the football season” if they don’t support players’ decision to take a knee during the national anthem.
About 30 minutes later, Merriweather finally saw the reaction from Hawkeye fans. The tweet quickly picked up thousands of likes on Twitter.
“I was just like, ‘Whoa,’” Merriweather said Tuesday at Big Ten Media Days.
Amid the outpouring of support, Merriweather had a realization. He learned “what kind of influence that you can have” as an athlete.
It marked a turning point in Merriweather’s leadership as a Hawkeye. He was an “outspoken guy” in high school, but that didn’t immediately translate to Iowa.
“Before that, I think I was a pretty quiet, laid-back guy,” Merriweather said. “I didn’t really use my voice.”
Since that moment, Merriweather has been a leader on the team, whether that’s off the field regarding social justice or on the field as a veteran on one of the top defenses in the Big Ten.
“Over time, as my teammates heard me talk, heard me using my voice and heard how I used what I knew to kind of teach them and help them along, I think I kind of naturally grew into that leadership that I have now,” Merriweather said.
As an on-the-field leader, the Belleville, Mich., native is now fielding questions from some of the younger guys such as Xavier Nwankpa and Deshaun Lee — just like how he’d ask questions to Geno Stone or Amani Hooker.
“X asks me all the time, ‘Can we watch film?’” Merriweather said. “We’ve been on the board and talked about little things. ‘How do you call this?’”
Merriweather also sees plenty of room for improvement for himself going into 2022.
“I know there’s so much more work that I need to do,” Merriweather said. “I’m nowhere near where I want to be from a football standpoint.”
As for his leadership in advocating for social justice, Merriweather is well aware of the "shut up and dribble“ pushback prominent athletes such as LeBron James have received when they have spoken up about racial injustice.
That makes the support he’s received particularly encouraging.
“People are actually taking what I’m saying to account and actually trying to learn from what I have to say,” Merriweather said. “It means the world to me.”
He spearheaded a video series during Black History Month that highlighted some of the inventions and innovations by Black people.
“A lot of people have preconceived notions about Black people,” Merriweather said in the video kicking off the series. “When most people think of Black people, they think of athletes, rappers, celebrities or thugs. But we are a race of innovators, inventors and entrepreneurs.”
Merriweather had the idea in late 2021 and brought it to Broderick Binns, who was Iowa director for diversity, equity and inclusion at the time.
“I was like, ‘We need to actually bring knowledge and actually talk about Black History Month more — what African Americans have brought to this society and our nation,” Merriweather said Tuesday.
Then after the season, Iowa’s video staff worked with Merriweather to execute his vision for the series.
“They did an incredible job,” Merriweather said. “It came together perfectly.”
Videos, either narrated by Merriweather or one of his teammates, discussed the accomplishments of Black inventors who made key advances in the development of light bulbs, portable refrigeration and home security systems.
“I learned so much just doing research and having other guys do research,” Merriweather said of the series.
He’s already looking ahead to next year’s Black History Month and wants to do “even more videos.”
"Hopefully it can grow into something bigger than what it was,“ Merriweather said.
It’s part of his efforts to be always “continuing my education on the topic.”
As Merriweather continues to go out of his way to learn about Black history, many people have opposed the teaching of some aspects of the topic. In Iowa, for example, Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a law banning teachers from teaching critical race theory.
Merriweather said the resistance to learning about racial inequities “does bother” him, but he’s optimistic people will “eventually want to actually listen to what you have to say.”
“It takes time for people to come around and people to be understanding,” Merriweather said. “Rome wasn’t built in a day. Change isn’t going to come in a day.”
Merriweather’s own learning process included “one of the most surreal experiences" of his time at Iowa earlier this month.
He was one of about 100 representatives from the Big Ten to travel to Selma and Montgomery, Ala., for a three-day trip that the conference described as an “immersive and educational experience at a key center of the civil rights movement.”
The trip included a march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge — where state troopers attacked civil rights protesters in 1965 on what became known as Bloody Sunday.
“It was honestly crazy, just being an African American man myself,” said Merriweather, who has family in Alabama. “I don’t know which of my family members could have actually potentially been part of that match from Selma to Montgomery.”
The Big Ten athletes, coaches and administrators also heard from a witness of Bloody Sunday and visited several museums.
Merriweather already has talked with some of his teammates about his experience in Alabama. He’ll have a presentation with Logan Lee, the other Iowa football player on the trip, for the rest of the team.
“Hopefully I can convince some of my teammates to go down there to Selma,” Merriweather said, and “see it for themselves.”
It might not be hard to find some takers for future trips.
Tight end Sam LaPorta, highlighting the importance of “understanding our past and understanding what this country is,” hopes to be part of a future trip to Selma.
“We need to support that cause fully,” LaPorta said. “We should try to get some more student-athletes down there in the near future.”
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