The Jus­tice Leagues

White play­ers have to de­cide if they want to be al­lies or foes in fight for equal­ity

Chicago Sun-Times - - SPORTS - BY STEVE GREEN­BERG sgreen­berg@sun­times.com @slgreen­berg

Mey­ers Leonard was be­twixt and be­tween, and stressed out about it for days. Stand for the na­tional an­them or take a knee?

Ul­ti­mately, when the Heat’s open­ing game in the NBA bub­ble ar­rived and the rest of his team knelt in a solemn protest against racism, the 28-year-old cen­ter, who is white — and whose U.S. Marine brother did two tours in Afghanista­n — chose to stand.

“I can’t fully com­pre­hend how our world, lit­er­ally and fig­u­ra­tively, has turned into Black and white,” Leonard, who played at Illi­nois,

said that night. “There’s a line in the sand, so to speak: ‘If you’re not kneel­ing, you’re not with us.’ And that’s not true.”

Maybe not. Mey­ers wore a “Black Lives Mat­ter” T-shirt and vo­cal­ized his sup­port of the move­ment, which is, one sup­poses, in the same broad vein as tak­ing a knee.

But Black peo­ple keep suf­fer­ing in this coun­try. Black peo­ple keep dy­ing. Black peo­ple keep be­ing vic­tim­ized dis­pro­por­tion­ately by po­lice and in the criminal jus­tice sys­tem.

Be­cause of this, for white peo­ple, the bar, in terms of what con­sti­tutes true ally­ship, keeps get­ting higher, and the choices — in a coun­try whose pres­i­dent calls Black Lives Mat­ter a “sym­bol of hate” — keep be­com­ing more starkly de­fined.

Either an ally, or not.

Either with them, or against them.

It’s re­ally that sim­ple, isn’t it?

We saw this play out over a tur­bu­lent week in the sports world as cur­rent and for­mer ath­letes and oth­ers re­acted in the wake of the po­lice shoot­ing of Ja­cob Blake in Kenosha, Wis­con­sin.

Bas­ket­ball was at the heart of it. As protests roiled — and af­ter deadly vi­o­lence struck — in Kenosha, the Bucks re­fused to take the court Wed­nes­day for their play­off game against the Magic; soon, all NBA games that day, and for two more days to come, were post­poned. WNBA play­ers like­wise chose not to play Wed­nes­day and Thurs­day.

Let’s just say not ev­ery white per­son was im­pressed.

“I think peo­ple are a lit­tle tired of the NBA, frankly,” Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump said.

OK, so we can cross him off the ally list. Same, clearly, for for­mer Notre Dame foot­ball coach Lou Holtz, who spoke, rather like a cave­man, at the Repub­li­can Na­tional Con­ven­tion. Holtz went af­ter pro­test­ers, say­ing they “like to blame oth­ers” and “don’t have pride in them­selves.” Fi­nally, af­ter decades of empty shtick, the real Holtz came out.

The real Brian Ur­lacher also stood up, be­lit­tling NBA play­ers in an In­sta­gram post for boy­cotting games all be­cause of one lit­tle seven-bul­lets-in-the-back in­ci­dent. Does the exBears line­backer re­ally fail to un­der­stand that protests in Kenosha are the re­sult of a re­volt­ing roll call of po­lice shoot­ings of Black peo­ple? Ur­lacher re­stored his hair, and now he’ll have to re­store some friend­ships af­ter pub­licly tak­ing a po­si­tion that was, in the words of for­mer team­mate Matt Forte, “void of em­pa­thy, com­pas­sion, wis­dom and co­her­ence.”

Then there’s the far more nu­anced case of the Cubs. Ja­son Hey­ward, who is Black, chose not to play Wed­nes­day in Detroit. His team took the field with­out him. That led to al­most in­stant, sting­ing crit­i­cism of Hey­ward’s team­mates on so­cial me­dia on a night when three ma­jor-league games were post­poned be­cause en­tire teams chose to fol­low the Bucks’ lead.

Ac­cord­ing to Hey­ward, though, cer­tain team­mates were con­flicted about play­ing. Hey­ward him­self en­cour­aged the team to play.

“I per­son­ally didn’t know how to han­dle it,” he said Fri­day, “so I didn’t ex­pect any­body else to.”

Al­lies? Sure, Hey­ward’s white team­mates can still be al­lies, even great ones. But some might wish they’d been on the same side of his­tory as the Brew­ers, Reds, Mariners, Padres, Dodgers and Gi­ants. It would’ve taken a hard choice but, in hind­sight, an un­mis­tak­able one.

White Sox pitcher Lu­cas Gi­olito, threw a no-hit­ter Tues­day. Two days later, the sub­ject had com­pletely changed. Gi­olito, who is white, ad­mit­ted he’d had “blinders” on at times re­gard­ing racial in­jus­tice in Amer­ica, too fo­cused on his ca­reer to truly en­gage.

“I had a solid amount of priv­i­lege, op­por­tu­nity, you name it, thrown my way, in life and in this game, and part of that is be­cause of the color of my skin,” he said. “I want to be able to stand along­side my Latin brothers, my Black brothers, on this team and in this league. I think that unity is very im­por­tant.”

With them or against them.

In or out. ✶

TONY DEJAK/AP

Cubs right fielder Ja­son Hey­ward (left) sat out the game against the Tigers on Wed­nes­day in protest, but his team­mates, in­clud­ing An­thony Rizzo, played.

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