|Mexico Olympics ’68
Tomme Smith and John Carlos
There has been a renewal and shift in the professional athletic landscape where boycotting and protesting political issues has become prevalent again. I do not think its a coincidence that this rebirth has coincided with advent of social media tools, where athletes can post their stances and beliefs to their followers directly, and where local news can easily become national news. Where a video can become viral in hours.
This connectivity to any person with a smart phone is powerful. The ability to influence, mobilize, and spark a movement is seeing the most efficient and effective tool to date. Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, all of the internet has provided a medium unlike anything we have ever seen.
In turn, professional athletes have become increasingly part of conversations about race. They have felt the weight of their standing and have voiced what they believe to be unjust. Leagues and institutions have struggled with how to deal with players speaking out. In an effort to stay impartial leagues have shielded themselves with rules and codes; all in an effort to remain bipartisan. Take for instance the WNBA, which issued fines earlier this year for teams wearing all black t-shirts in solidarity for ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement. The league cited that it was violating league uniform rules. The public out cry forced the league to rescind the penalties after backlash.
Just a few years prior to this, the NBA had a similar scenario. However, they didn’t fine NBA stars for wearing a t-shirt honoring the death of Eric Gardner with the words,”I can’t breathe”. The league commissioner, Adam Silver stated, “I respect… all of our players for voicing their personal views on important issues, but my preference would be for players to abide by our on-court attire rules.” President Obama praised and offered his view point:
We forget the role that Muhammad Ali, Arthur Ashe and bill Russell played in raising consciousness. We went through a long stretch there where [with] well-paid athletes the notion was: just be quiet and get your endorsement and don’t make waves. LeBron is an example of a young man who has, in his own way and in a respectful way, tried to say, ‘I’m part of this society too,’ and focus attention. I’d like to see more athletes do that – not just around this issue, but around a range of issues.
Star NBA players again voiced their concern and opinion this year at the 2016 ESPYs. The lines can become blurred on what is appropriate and what is not, if a player is representing himself, or his team or league. This sets a precedence that may force the hand of leagues to take sides.
There is real world power of influence in athletics. For example, the University of Missouri football team threatened to not play their entire in support of a graduate student who was on a hunger strike for the removal of the school president due to the alleged systemic racism on campus. The student had little traction, but when the team got involved, droves of reporting agencies descended upon the campus. The school president and chancellor later resigned.
What prompted me to write about this was the recent outcry against Colin Kaepernick who has boycotted the National Anthem for all of his pre-season NFL games. In his words:
I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.
This obviously hit a nerve. I saw friends, friends of friends, post terrible things about him and what he had done. I saw a few videos of angry fans burning his jersey. One of his own teammates hinted that they would have gone to blows on the sideline if he was there. This kind of reaction gave me pause. This kind of intolerance was perhaps indicative of his underlying point that he may have been trying to get at – We still have problems here and we need to discuss them.
I am not defending the mode by which he protested. I am not defending his words, which invoke the idea that this country is completely intolerant and unjust. I am however defending his right to express his beliefs. I believe that in that moment he was representing his views. Wether you like it or not, good men and women have died for his right to not salute the flag.
I am not okay with what he did. I think it was disrespectful. The flag symbolizes all of our hopes of what this country can be and what good it is. The National Anthem is a beautiful tribute to the real struggles that this country was wrought out of and what it continues to rise from. But to call him hateful names, to burn his jersey, to call for his job? It’s just as ignorant as him forgetting the many blessing this country has given to him. It is the fear and hate he is speaking directly about.
Again, while I disagree with how he protested and what he said, he has our attention… for now anyway. It may be negative on him, but it can start a conversation. It can bring awareness to what he is passionate about and his purpose on sitting – the oppression of minorities.
I have seen racism first hand. It’s vial. It’s ugly. However, I have also seen the countless blessings that come from living in this country. I think the good out number the bad. What a wonderful blessing it is to be part of this nation! A nation that will allow citizens, just like Kaepernick to call out leaders, officials, police officers, even each other, and not be killed for it.
(There is another piece written by Ian O’Connor on Kaepernick that provides further insight.)
— Update —
After writing this post, I read the full transcript of Kaepernick’s comments to the media addressing his stance. You can read it here. Here are a few Q&A’s I found most interesting.