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Texas Relays – One of the Largest Black Events in Austin

Some of the fastest track and field stars from all over the U.S. will convene at the 96th Clyde Littlefield Texas Relays from March 27 to March 30 to light up the field. 

Nearly 5,000 athletes from high school, college, and professional levels will be at the Mike A. Myers Stadium in Austin for the sporting event, which is hosted by The University of Texas and presented by Truist. The event generates tens of millions of dollars in economic returns for the capital and is billed as one of the largest Black events in Austin. 

The Texas Relays are currently the second largest track meet in the United States, behind only the Penn Relays. Approximately 50,000 spectators will cheer on the track stars, many of whom are already at the pro level or will be invited, also known as invitational, and have competed at the Olympics. For instance, Bryce Deadmon set a 400-meter record in 2021 with 44.62 and later went on to the Tokyo Olympics and won Gold in the 400-meter relay at the  Tokyo Olympics. 

Gabby Thomas raced in 2023 at the Texas Relays and won the women’s 100 meters in 11.09 seconds and the 200 meters in 22.46 seconds. In 2020, she was also a part of the 4×100-meter relay team that took home Silver. Thomas is set to compete in the Paris Olympics. 

The 94-year-old event hosted other top Olympians, such as Carl Lewis, Sanya Richards-Ross, Lolo Jones, Michael Johnson, Leo Manzano, and Trey Hardee.

While the 100-meter and 200-meter races are the showstoppers, athletes will also compete in the mile run, decathlon, relays, high jump, pole vault, discus throw, and more. Some of the pro or invitational athletes will have their work cut out for them because the college scene has seen many talented and fast athletes, such as Texas Tech sprinter Terrence Jones, LSU sprinter Alia Armstrong, and University of Texas athlete Leo Neugebauer, who competes in the decathlon. 

Many of these college stars are not waiting for Olympic endorsements and are inking NIL deals or Name Image and Likeness sports contracts with companies such as Nike, Adidas, and New Balance. Companies have found that NIL athletes serve as great brand ambassadors or social media influencers when others see them laced up in the latest Nike or Adidas shoes. Fan Hub has an NIL tracker, and so far, they have found that 72 track and field athletes ranging from high school to college have netted these sports contracts. 

Following a 2021 Supreme Court ruling, the NCAA changed its policies to allow college athletes and recruits to earn money through extracurricular means, such as endorsement deals and personal appearances, as long as they remain consistent with state laws. In Texas, high school athletes are prohibited from getting into NIL contracts (which is why many are tempted to move out of the Lonestar state). 

While most NIL deals go to football and basketball athletes, runners are starting to get into the mix. Sports agents may be sitting in the front rows at the Texas Relays, looking for their next recruits. Runner’s World magazine reported in the spring of 2023 that Duke University steeplechase runner Emily Cole could see her NIL agreements easily top $150,000 that year. It helped that she has about 300,000 followers on TikTok and Instagram combined.

In addition to the athletes, Texas Relays is a catalyst for many Black events, large and small. Unfortunately, it also has some controversial history that has followed the event over the years. First, the Urban Cultural Fest is on March 29 and 30, and the Texas Relays Car Show, now called the Donk Contest, is on March 30 at Givens Park. 

The Donk Contest (according to its website) “originally began at Highland Mall where cars would gather during the Texas Relays rally weekend. The car show started as an organic event with no event organizers. Everyone in Texas knew to be at Highland Mall on the Saturday of Relays weekend to see the coolest cars in Texas. This all changed in 2015 when the mall was closed down. Without a place to congregate, we realized the show may come to a premature end. That’s why the Donk Contest was created. We aim to create a similar experience to the original Highland Mall shows that many of us looked forward to for years.” 

Back in 2008, a video on YouTube called the gathering inside Highland Mall the Black Mardi Gras because a young Black Crowd could be seen on the mall’s second floor throwing items down to the first floor like in Mardi Gras. The video also shows stores in the mall closing early. The Texas Relays has also caused some concerns among nearby Sixth Street bars, with some in the past citing “security concerns” as their reason for closing early. However, one wonders if the real reason is that the crowd is predominantly Black. Are these same bars closing down early to prevent drunk driving deaths at South by Southwest? 

It’s also important to note that the end of Highland Mall can’t be blamed on the Texas Relays or the young Black crowd in 2008, who probably could have infused some much-needed spending in the mall if the vendors were smart. Located just a few miles from the University of Texas, like the fate of many malls, Highland lost many of its anchor tenants and was victim to changing residential demographics and shopping patterns before it closed to the public in 2016. The Austin Community College system eventually took over the mall.

Wherever the afterparty ends up being during the Texas Relays weekend, one thing is for sure: many of the nation’s best athletes will be running, jumping, and giving it their all in the name of sports. We could see the next Carl Lewis or Sanya Richards-Ross at the Texas Relays. 

Ebony Huerta Wells has over 25 years of writing and media experience. She was a former business journalist with a major newspaper and worked for other niche publications.

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