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Marshawn Lynch has powered through defenses for 12 seasons as a running back in the NFL and earned a reputation for community service off the field. But when Lynch was named as this year’s Class Day speaker Feb. 25, some students balked at the choice, writing a Daily Princetonian op-ed about the selection process that sparked a wider discussion of race on campus and how outspoken athletes are treated by the public at large. (Plans for Commencement events had not yet been announced when PAW went to press.)

The initial op-ed, written as an open letter to the Class Day co-chairs, questioned the criteria used in selecting Lynch. Seniors began inviting speakers from outside the University in 2001, and recent guests have shared “a connection with the graduation class as Princeton alumni or are widely regarded as exceptional communicators,” wrote the four authors; the Prince later removed their names due to “credible safety concerns” following online threats.

When newspapers began reporting on the objections to Lynch’s invitation, other seniors responded in the Prince that the letter writers didn’t speak for the class — and intentionally or not, they were invoking racist stereotypes of African Americans and athletes. 

Julia Chaffers ’22, a Prince columnist, argued that Lynch aligns with the senior class as much as other non-alum speakers have, writing that his philanthropic work empowering underserved families embodies Princeton’s service ideal, and as a first-generation college student, he can relate to seniors from similar backgrounds.

“We need to stop treating athletes as puppets or performers acting for our consumption,” Chaffers wrote. “They are people, and they have interests and ideas outside of their sport.”