Ac­tivism OK, but not if it’s about race

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - DERON SNY­DER

New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots quar­ter­back Tom Brady and Michi­gan foot­ball coach Jim Har­baugh are among the ath­letes and coaches who said the fol­low­ing in a public ser­vice an­nounce­ment for a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion:

“I pledge to treat ev­ery­one with re­spect and dig­nity. I will not tol­er­ate dis­crim­i­na­tion or ha­rass­ment of any kind. I will speak up when­ever I know dis­crim­i­na­tion is hap­pen­ing and I will stand up for vic­tims.”

Speak­ing up and stand­ing up — or in Colin Kaeper­nick’s case, tak­ing a knee — are en­try-level forms of ac­tivism, de­fined by dic­tio­ as “the doc­trine or prac­tice of vig­or­ous ac­tion or in­volve­ment as a means of achiev­ing po­lit­i­cal or other goals, some­times by demon­stra­tions, protests, etc.”

High-pro­file sports fig­ures like Brady and Har­baugh of­ten are re­luc­tant to join ac­tivists in the area of race, the bat­tle­ground for the Ross Ini­tia­tive in Sports for Equal­ity (RISE). Founded in 2015 by Mi­ami Dol­phins owner Stephen Ross, the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s goal is to im­prove race re­la­tions and drive so­cial progress by har­ness­ing the power of sports.

The mis­sion is taboo to many fans, who be­lieve race and sports are like oil and wa­ter — they don’t mix. Such fans want games to serve as an es­cape from real-life is­sues, not a re­minder. They be­lieve that ath­letes/coaches should re­frain from un­re­lated com­ments and keep so­ci­etal

ob­ser­va­tions to them­selves.

Or is that only when the topic is race?

I don’t re­call any grum­bling when nearly two dozen cur­rent and for­mer NFL play­ers took part in PSAs de­cry­ing do­mes­tic vi­o­lence and sex­ual as­sault. Why is it OK for Eli Man­ning and John Lynch to take a stance against that is­sue, but not the is­sue of un­armed black men mur­dered by po­lice?

Sev­eral play­ers in­volved in the NO MORE cam­paign had per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence, in­clud­ing NFL ex­ec­u­tive Troy Vin­cent (whose mother is a sur­vivor of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence) and Pitts­burgh Steel­ers cor­ner­back Wil­liam Gay (whose mother was killed by an abu­sive part­ner). Gay has vol­un­teered at a Pitts­burgh shel­ter for bat­tered women, which I imag­ine is uni­ver­sally ap­plauded.

Sup­port for Blue Lives Mat­ter would be cel­e­brated, too.

But if a player vol­un­teered to help a Black Lives Mat­ter or­ga­ni­za­tion, he would be bom­barded with neg­a­tive re­ac­tion that should be re­served for su­prem­a­cist groups.

Three-time World Se­ries-win­ning man­ager Tony La Russa is a renowned an­i­mal rights ac­tivist. NASCAR cham­pion Jeff Gor­don fights against world hunger. Red Sox out­fielder Mookie Betts and Pa­tri­ots safety Pa­trick Chung visit Bos­ton schools in an ef­fort to curb bul­ly­ing.

No one says those ath­letes should shut up and stick to sports. There’s no dis­cus­sion on the merit of the causes. No one crit­i­cizes the ath­letes’ sup­port or deems it in­ap­pro­pri­ate.

Only the sub­ject of race trig­gers a hue and cry.

This is noth­ing new. Muham­mad Ali, Arthur Ashe, Jackie Robin­son and Jim Brown heard it when they ad­vo­cated on be­half of blacks 50 years ago. So did Olympic sprint­ers Tom­mie Smith and John Car­los. But ath­letic ac­tivism faded and was re­placed by in­di­vid­u­al­ism and ma­te­ri­al­ism in the ’80s as Michael Jor­dan took flight.

Jor­dan’s buddy Charles Barkley slam-dunked the no­tion of higher call­ings in a 1993 Nike com­mer­cial when he said “I am not a role model.”

Con­sid­er­ing vir­tu­ally ev­ery­thing that comes out of Barkley’s mouth — es­pe­cially his ig­no­rant and mis­guided anal­y­sis of racism — he’s cor­rect. But, se­ri­ously, in the grand scheme of things, re­gard­less of his views, ac­tivism or lack thereof, he’s ab­so­lutely wrong.

Ev­ery­one is a role model, a blue­print to be em­u­lated or avoided de­pend­ing on your per­spec­tive.

The only dif­fer­ence be­tween ath­letes and or­di­nary folks is their plat­forms. Mi­cro­phones and notepads aren’t stuck in our faces sev­eral days a week. Our ut­ter­ances don’t travel around the world and back on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. We don’t have hun­dreds of thou­sands of fol­low­ers on so­cial me­dia.

That doesn’t mean ath­letes are smarter or more in­sight­ful than av­er­age Joes and Janes. It just means they can have a larger im­pact … if they choose to make one.

Most use Jor­dan as the archetype, do­ing and say­ing noth­ing that might ad­versely af­fect their im­age. Derek Jeter and Tiger Woods are clas­sic ex­am­ples from that school. Even though MJ broke char­ac­ter last sum­mer when he an­nounced $1 mil­lion do­na­tions to the In­sti­tute for Com­mu­nity-Po­lice Re­la­tions and the NAACP Le­gal De­fense Fund, he has served as the per­fect anti-ac­tivist role model through­out his pro­fes­sional life.

If an ath­lete or any­one else chooses to not join move­ments, fight for change or blast the sta­tus quo, so be it. They have ev­ery right to sit and watch from the side­lines, or make con­tri­bu­tions that go un­de­tected and un­re­ported.

How­ever, some in­di­vid­u­als opt to get in­volved. And ath­letes’ celebrity shouldn’t in­hibit their op­por­tu­nity to ex­press them­selves, whether it’s their T-shirt, footwear or pos­ture dur­ing the na­tional an­them. Tak­ing ad­van­tage of pub­lic­ity is part of the Amer­i­can way.

Along with en­ter­tain­ers, ath­letes are among the most vis­i­ble fig­ures in our so­ci­ety, par­tic­u­larly black ath­letes. They are in a unique po­si­tion to ad­vo­cate on any num­ber of is­sues, es­pe­cially those that dis­pro­por­tion­ately im­pact peo­ple of color.

It would be great if white ath­letes em­braced that fight as read­ily as they join oth­ers.

Tak­ing a stand isn’t re­stricted to causes other than race.

And it’s not re­stricted to tak­ing a knee, ei­ther.


San Fran­cisco 49ers quar­ter­back Colin Kaeper­nick ei­ther re­mained seated or took a knee dur­ing the na­tional an­them be­fore sev­eral NFL games this sea­son as forms of protest against so­cial in­jus­tice. Kaeper­nick’s ac­tions be­came one of the sto­ries of the year and spurred other ath­letes to fol­low suit in var­i­ous ways.

Wash­ing­ton Red­skins re­ceiver DeSean Jack­son wore cleats with yel­low po­lice tape on them dur­ing warm ups on Oct. 2 to speak up against vi­o­lence.

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