Ath­lete ac­tivists make voices heard

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

From Colin Kaeper­nick’s boy­cott of the US na­tional an­them to LeBron James wear­ing a t-shirt to protest the death of a black man at the hands of po­lice, US ath­letes are in­creas­ingly ready to make their voices heard af­ter years of rel­a­tive si­lence.

Three years ago, Kaeper­nick was star­ring at quar­ter­back for the San Fran­cisco 49ers in the Su­per Bowl. But it was not un­til last month that the 28-year-old found him­self af­forded the ac­co­lade of land­ing on the cover of Time mag­a­zine.

Kaeper­nick had trig­gered a pas­sion­ate na­tion­wide de­bate af­ter re­fus­ing to stand for “The Star Span­gled Ban­ner” dur­ing the 49ers’ pre-sea­son games, in or­der to draw at­ten­tion to so­cial in­jus­tice and the treat­ment of mi­nori­ties by law en­force­ment agen­cies.

The quar­ter­back’s de­ci­sion to take to one knee dur­ing the an­them was met with howls of out­rage in many quar­ters, with ac­cu­sa­tions that Kaeper­nick was guilty of trea­son and dis­re­spect­ing US mil­i­tary per­son­nel.

Yet Kaeper­nick’s protest won a solid core of sup­port from many fel­low cur­rent and for­mer ath­letes, not least from Tom­mie Smith, the sprinter who was sent home in dis­grace from the 1968 Olympic Games af­ter his podium “black power” salute along with com­pa­triot John Car­los.

“He is be­ing vil­i­fied in how he brings the truth out. I sup­port him be­cause he is bring­ing the truth out, re­gard­less of how done,” Smith told USA To­day.

“We must move and deal with these is­sues, we just can’t sit back (...) there are a lot of bat­tles to fight be­cause it’s a big long war.”

Kaeper­nick’s an­them protest has con­tin­ued through­out the sea­son. Other NFL play­ers have cho­sen to show their sup­port for the 49ers star, no­tably the Los An­ge­les Rams’ de­fen­sive end Robert Quinn, who raised a clenched fist salute dur­ing the an­them be­fore his team’s game against the New York Gi­ants in London on Sun­day.

The scat­tered protests are part of a trend to­wards ac­tivism that has be­come in­creas­ingly vis­i­ble in re­cent years. In 2012, James led his then Mi­ami Heat team­mates in a group pose all with track­suit hood­ies drawn up over their heads. The im­age was a protest against the killing of black teenager Trayvon Martin ear­lier that year by a neigh­bor­hood watch vol­un­teer. The un­armed Martin, 17, was wear­ing a hoodie when he was shot.

Two years later, James was among NBA play­ers who wore t-shirts bear­ing the mes­sage “I can’t breathe”-a ref­er­ence to the fi­nal words of New York man Eric Garner who died af­ter be­ing placed in a choke­hold dur­ing a con­fronta­tion with po­lice. And now, ahead of the Novem­ber 8 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, James has voiced his clear sup­port for Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton.

“We are see­ing a re­birth of the ac­tivist ath­letes. In the 60s and 70s, we saw some very prom­i­nent ath­letes like Muham­mad Ali, Bil­lie Jean King and John Car­los speak­ing up about the so­cial is­sues of the day, about racial in­jus­tice,” said Orin Starn, an an­thro­pol­o­gist at Duke Univer­sity. “And then for the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, we had the rise of the cor­po­rate ath­lete, who was more in­ter­ested in en­dorse­ments, win­ning, be­ing the best he could be at the sport, his fam­ily, mak­ing some char­i­ta­ble do­na­tions to an un­con­tro­ver­sial cause,” Starn added.

Michael Jor­dan, a six-time NBA cham­pion with the Chicago Bulls who helped power the global ex­plo­sion in pop­u­lar­ity of basketball dur­ing the 1990s, has long-been re­garded as the ar­che­typal cor­po­rate ath­lete.

He in­fa­mously once de­clared “Repub­li­cans buy sneak­ers too” to jus­tify his reluc­tance to cam­paign for a Demo­crat in North Carolina. Los An­ge­les Lak­ers leg­end Ka­reem Ab­dul-Jab­bar de­cried Jor­dan’s po­si­tion as “com­merce over con­science.”

“Michael Jor­dan was fo­cused on be­ing the best basketball player ever and on his Nike en­dorse­ments,” Starn told AFP. “He sets the model, the tem­plate for a whole gen­er­a­tion of ath­letes, for the 1990s and in the 2000s. Tiger Woods fol­lowed ex­actly the Michael Jor­dan model in avoid­ing any kind of touchy so­cial is­sues, fo­cus­ing on his golf game, and earn­ing a lot of money on his cor­po­rate en­dorse­ments.”

‘LEBRON IS NO ALI’

By demon­strat­ing his will­ing­ness to en­gage in so­cial is­sues, James has bro­ken from Jor­dan’s care­fully crafted pub­lic im­age. In July, James took to the stage at the ESPY Awards along with Carmelo An­thony, Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade to protest po­lice bru­tal­ity, urg­ing ath­letes to take an ac­tive role in tack­ling in­jus­tice.

De­spite the pub­lic pro­nounce­ments, Starn how­ever sees lim­its to the re­cent rise in ath­lete ac­tivism, not­ing that James was not the kind of “po­lit­i­cal an­i­mal as Ali was.”“For LeBron, sports come first; Ali gave up a heavy­weight cham­pi­onship. I am not sure LeBron is ready to leave the NBA as a protest on the killings of young black peo­ple,” Starn said. “It’s ter­rific that LeBron has been out­spo­ken, (but) ac­tivism is not yet the core of who he is. “The new sport ac­tivism marks a dra­matic change from 10-20 years ago but it is also re­ally limited - it’s fired by the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment ... it re­ally re­mains to be seen whether this new ac­tivism will go be­yond that par­tic­u­lar is­sue. “Is Colin Kaeper­nick go­ing to in­spire other ath­letes to speak up about Syria, poverty in Amer­ica, the dan­ger of a Trump pres­i­dency? That re­mains an open ques­tion.” —AFP

SANTA CLARA: This file photo taken on Oc­to­ber 22, 2016 shows Eric Reid #35 and Colin Kaeper­nick #7 of the San Fran­cisco 49ers kneel­ing in protest dur­ing the na­tional an­them prior to their NFL game against the Tampa Bay Buc­ca­neers at Levi’s Sta­dium in Santa Clara, Cal­i­for­nia. From Colin Kaeper­nick’s boy­cott of the US na­tional an­them to LeBron James wear­ing a t-shirt to protest the death of a black man at the hands of po­lice, US ath­letes are in­creas­ingly ready to make their voices heard af­ter years of rel­a­tive si­lence. — AFP

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