“Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted; the indifference of those who should have known better; the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most; that has made it possible for evil to triumph.” — Haile Selassie
We are living in a time like no other in American history. Unprecedented. Tumultuous. Divisive.
We see it everywhere. In our schools, on our televisions. In our music. On the corner of streets in suburban America. People are angry. The injustices in our system have boiled to ahead. It’s at the forefront of everything we see or hear.
An entire demographic in our nation is bleeding profusely from being chained and beaten, segregated, spit on, incarcerated at astoundingly disproportionate rates. They are denied employment, equal education opportunities, and now it seems even due process. Many of us are too shaken to be quiet, no matter the platform.
And many of us want to use whatever platform we have to speak out against the things we see that hurt our souls to the core. Sports is a platform, whether you like it or not. And the more I see people say “stick to sports” when someone in the sports world talks, the more I have to ask myself, “why?”
Athletes are people with a voice, with a stance and with an opinion. Many of the athletes we root for are people of color. And while they entertain us, the world around them is falling. They live in fear in a way I, as a white male, can never possibly understand.
These men and women wake up every day in a different America than I do. They wake up having to remind their children to be aware and obedient lest they get arrested, beaten or shot and killed. They have to remind them to always look over their shoulders and to be careful everywhere they go. And sometimes, such as the Brionna Taylor case, even all of that isn’t enough for them to stay whole and safe. They are mourning their fellow Black Americans on almost a daily basis.
This is nothing new. I remember watching Rodney King being mercilessly beaten by four white police officers at a traffic stop on the nightly news when I was 10. And as events unfolded and we found out more about what had happened, it hurt my heart as a kid to know that he was beaten within an inch of his life simply because he was black. As I got older I would see these kinds of things happen on a micro-scale and think to myself, “I don’t think this is the progress Dr. King was marching for.”
Now, imagine being a black athlete in America in 2020. You are watching your brothers and sisters being systematically oppressed, abused, beaten, incarcerated, raped, murdered, with little to no consequence for the offenders.
This is your time. You have a platform to be heard. You speak out, talk about how your community is devastated, bloodied, beaten down and tired. Oh, so tired. You speak about the need for change. For peace. For love to conquer all. And you are told from every which way to “stick to sports”, or “stop bringing politics into sports.”
One I have been seeing a lot of lately is “Just shut up and play the game”.
When did the value of human life and equality become political? Why is it that we can’t just shut up and listen? Why do you expect these men and women to compete at the highest level of their sport, while their friends, family and community are reeling, without saying a word about it? What are we as a society so afraid of? Is it equality? It’s it being exposed for what some of you out there really are?
These conversations are uncomfortable. It’s hard to look at yourself in the mirror and realize you might be part of the problem. I get it. But now isn’t the time to look away. It’s time to stare. Look into your soul and ask yourself, “Why do these conversations make me uncomfortable?”
I don’t want athletes just sticking to sports. I don’t want actors and actresses sticking to acting, nor musicians to music. Speak up. Speak out. Speak loud.
These people have reached the pinnacle of their professions, excelling at things we can only dream of. They have made millions of dollars. Yet, they continue to feel the sting, the pain and the suffering of being a person of color in America. Without their voices, there is no change. Their stories are important.
They’ve been trying to tell us these stories for decades. We didn’t listen. Through music (Rage Against the Machine, the entire hip-hop community), movies and tv shows (Spike Lee and Kenya Barris). We didn’t listen. They’ve written books (Roots, The Help), they’ve peacefully protested, they’ve marched. And we didn’t listen. Maybe now instead of telling them to stick to sports, we can finally listen.
And, now, instead of the regularly scheduled fantasy football advice you find in the second-half of these columns, please read and remember the following names. And when someone on the news or Twitter tells you, or anybody else to, “just stick to sports,” remember why we can’t.