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Gov. Spencer Cox speaks during the PBS Utah Governor's Monthly News Conference at the Eccles Broadcast Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, April 15, 2021.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

'Something that we should be celebrating': Gov. Cox defends Jazz student scholarship program

By Ryan Miller, KSL.com | Posted - Apr. 16, 2021 at 5:41 p.m.



SALT LAKE CITY — Some corners of the internet were mad on Thursday.

Who would have thought that David from Highland would have such an impact? During his monthly appearance on KSL Newsradio's "Let Me Speak to the Governor" program, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox was asked by the aforementioned David this question:

"The Utah Jazz is excluding white children from consideration for their scholarship program. Do you think this is racist? And what will you do to prevent the Utah Jazz from acting in this racist manner?"

There's no doubt where David lands on the issue of the Jazz's scholarship program — which pledges a scholarship to an underrepresented student in Utah for every Jazz win this season — but what about Cox?

"I don't think it's racist," he said. "In fact, I think it's in response to, unfortunately, some very difficult and racist injustices that have happened in our community for a long time."

When his answer was paraphrased in a tweet thread about the program, some angered people came out of the woodworks.

"Would you have the same answer for White-only private programs?" one response reads.

"To me this is simple ... If the Utah Jazz had a scholarship program that was only for whites what would be the response?" said another.

Even conservative media pundit Ann Coulter got in the mix, sarcastically stating: "All Utahns should be proud of the local NBA team discriminating against white children because whites, even children, are bad."

The social media firestorm grew so big that Cox felt the need to respond, tweeting: "I hope you will take time to listen to what I actually said. But look folks, if you're outraged by a private individual trying to help disadvantaged minority kids go to college, then I'm definitely not your guy."

The Jazz have pointed out time and again that the program is about giving opportunities to students who may not otherwise have them. They looked at data and identified a population that was in need of help.

"People of color are underrepresented in the classroom and workforce relative to the rest of the population, with Black and African American, Hispanic and Latino, and Native American and Alaska Native groups remaining half as likely as their white peers to have a bachelor's degree or higher and having higher unemployment rates than their white counterparts," a Jazz press release said when announcing the program.

According to 2018 data from the National Center for Education Statistics, 37% of 18- to 24-year-olds who were Black attended college, compared to 42% for their white counterparts. College-age Hispanic and Latino individuals attended school 36% of the time, ahead of the 24% of Pacific Islanders and 24% of Native Americans and Alaskans.

The data continues, showing: 64% of white students end up graduating — a rate second only to Asian or Asian-American students (a demographic that is also not included in the Jazz's program) — compared to 40% of Black students. Native Americans/Alaskans graduate at a 39% rate, with 54% of Hispanic/Latino students finishing school.

That racial gap in education has never been a secret. Smith simply decided to help fix it. The Jazz program is even putting an emphasis on first-generation college students.

"These are kids who have struggled," said Cox, continuing his answer. "Kids who have not had access to the same opportunities that my kids and your kids have had. We live in a nation that does have a very difficult history, and sometimes we try to ignore it."

Does that mean there are no white students who could use the help? Of course not. But most private scholarships aren't all-inclusive, either.

The Belliston Family Foundation Scholarship at Southern Utah University is reserved for returned missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Kenneth H and Judith R Jones Endowed Scholarship at Utah Valley University gives a preference for students who reside in Gunnison. There are dozens, if not hundreds of similar private scholarships throughout the state.

"I'll tell you what I'm going to do for the Utah Jazz: absolutely nothing," Cox said. "Because you know what? I believe in the Constitution, and I believe in the freedom of businesses to make decisions and decisions that are right for them. Your kid or my kid, they have no right to the Utah Jazz's money, and the Utah Jazz and Ryan Smith can do the things that they want to do with their funds and their revenues. And look, it's an awesome program and it's something that we should be celebrating."

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