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Every young athlete dreams of one day having their highlights shown by a major sports television network.
University of Winnipeg Wesmen basketball player Josh Gandier is no different. The fourth-year guard would love to have a game-winning shot or a jaw-dropping slam dunk go viral.
It turns out Gandier, as well as Brandon Bobcats basketball player Anthony Tsegakele, will get to live out that dream, although in a different capacity than what they may have originally imagined.
That doesn't make it any less important, though.
The pair of Manitoba hoopsters will appear on a segment of ESPN's Outside the Lines as part of a panel discussing activism among university student-athletes. Gandier and Tsegakele's appearance will be released across ESPN social media platforms on Tuesday. OTL is an Emmy award-winning program that examines the crossroads of society and sport.
Spearheaded by Wesmen Athletics media relations co-ordinator David Larkins, the U of W, University of Manitoba Bisons and Brandon University Bobcats teamed up to produce an anti-racism video last month featuring student-athletes from the three schools.
"When the games are on, we are rivals... But there are things we see that are bigger than sport, more important than our logos. Racial injustice continues and it's on all of us to step up, to unite and rise up together," said the athletes in the widely circulated video that was uploaded online on Sept. 15.
The video caught the attention of ESPN, leading to the self-proclaimed 'Worldwide Leader in Sports' reaching out.
"Growing up as a kid, you dream about being on those networks. Maybe I'm not doing it with my basketball skills, but connecting my basketball skills with my social justice passion may be even better," Gandier said.
"You have guys now today that are making a big difference like LeBron James, Colin Kaepernick, just guys that are speaking about these things, and sports networks are really making an effort to bring that to light. I think about the kids growing up now and the type of kids that are going to grow up seeing that. We're just going to have more powerful leaders and people that want to step in to make changes."
"Growing up as a kid, you dream about being on those networks." – Josh Gandier
Gandier, a John Taylor Collegiate graduate, is an accounting major who's minoring in Indigenous studies. When asked to be a part of the video and the ESPN interview, he didn't hesitate to say yes. For him, now is not the time for rivalries; it's a time to come together.
"I think it just speaks to the quality of athletes and people we have involved in the programs at each school that are willing to set aside competition. It's fun competition that strives for us to be better, but I think it also says something that all of us are passionate about this because all of us have an experience or relatives who've experienced racial injustice," he said.
"It says something about the environment we're living in Canada and hopefully, all of us coming together can have an impact and give the younger athletes coming up the courage to speak up and come together and make things better for everybody."
The ESPN interview has been recorded and Gandier admits he was feeling a bunch of different emotions heading into it.
"David Larkins reached out to me and was like 'Josh, this isn't often that ESPN reaches out.' I was a little nervous and self-conscious going into it, but just realizing the message that we're speaking about and like we've been saying in our video, it's bigger than all of us as athletes, so just kind of remembering that and being thankful for the opportunity to speak on such a big platform. But yeah, I definitely had the nerves going," Gandier said.
Racial inequality hits close to home for Gandier. He was raised by a single mother, Susan, who was adopted. His mother's past led to Gandier not getting to meet many of his Indigenous relatives, something of which he is working on building today.
"Growing up, I was embarrassed and afraid of things that people would say or happen if I identified as Indigenous partially because of my mom's experience growing up," said the 22-year-old Gandier.
"I understand there are a lot more kids like me that are missing a connection to their Indigenous relatives."
"It says something about the environment we're living in Canada and hopefully, all of us coming together can have an impact and give the younger athletes coming up the courage to speak up and come together and make things better for everybody." – Josh Gandier
But Gandier isn't running from his roots any more. In fact, he's embracing them. Before the pandemic hit, he worked with Robyn Boulanger, a sharpshooting guard with the Wesmen women's team who's also Indigenous, and the Anishinabe Pride basketball program to offer free skills camps to youth.
"Something we all like to say is 'basketball is medicine.' We can all relate to how it kept us out of trouble and been a guide to stay on track whenever we find ourselves in trouble or in adversity," he said.
It might be a while until Gandier can safely run a camp again, but the academic all-Canadian hopes his ESPN appearance can have a similar impact on youth.
"For all the kids who are in a similar position that I was, seeing (me on ESPN) hopefully can give you a little confidence and hope and inspiration that they, too, can get in a position like that one day."
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.
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