Applaud young athletes for taking action.
As candidate and then president, John F. Kennedy inspired young people to public service and activism, most notably with the Peace Corps. Six decades later, America’s young are responding again, not to a politician but to a movement, determined to correct injustice and change the world.
Applaud, encourage and advise them, and also notice that many of them are athletes, keenly aware of their platforms and adept in using them.
From Jesse Owens to Jackie
Robinson, Muhammad Ali to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Arthur Ashe to Billie Jean King, just to mention a few, athletes have long connected with the issues of their day. The onset of the coronavirus shutdown in midMarch and, most recently, our national conversations regarding systemic racism and police brutality, have mobilized this generation.
Unlike their forerunners, these athletes have social media at their disposal, and while that space is far too often a haven for intolerance and hate, in this case it’s a godsend.
Bubba Wallace sounds like a name straight out of racing royalty. But this 26-year-old Alabama native is the lone African American competing on NASCAR’s top circuit, and during a June 8 interview with CNN’s
Don Lemon, he called for NASCAR to ban displays of the Confederate flag at its events.
NASCAR officials had tamely discouraged such displays in 2015 after a 21-year-old white man murdered nine blacks during a Bible study at a Charleston, S.C., church. But less than 48 hours after Wallace’s CNN appearance, with Twitter abuzz, stock car racing’s governing body issued an outright ban.
Later that evening, driving the iconic No. 43 car of Richard Petty Motorsports no less, Wallace raced at Martinsville Speedway on national television with a #BlackLivesMatter paint scheme. Online sales of his merchandise, including a “Compassion, Love, Understanding” line, temporarily crashed his website.
Wallace told the Washington Post’s Liz Clarke that the February death of Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed black man gunned down while jogging near his Georgia home, was his tipping point. Others have cited a Minneapolis police officer’s suffocation of George Floyd late last month.
Indeed, there comes a time when the sheer accumulation of horror shakes us to the core and prompts action.
After Floyd’s death, Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, perhaps college football’s most visible player, not only shared his thoughts via social media but also joined teammates Darien Rencher, Mike Jones
Jr. and Cornell Powell in organizing “March For Change,” a peaceful on-campus demonstration Saturday. The event drew approximately 3,000, including Tigers coach Dabo Swinney and Clemson President Jim Clements.
“Today, we can turn all this pain into purpose,” Jones told the crowd. “But it starts with each of us individually.”
The Clemson Board of Trustees voted unanimously Friday to remove John C. Calhoun’s name from the university’s Honors College. Calhoun was a slave owner and secessionist, and former Tigers football stars Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins were among the legions advocating change.
Also Friday, Clemson’s board requested permission from the state legislature to rename Tillman Hall, home to its College of Education. Benjamin Tillman was a white supremacist and late-19th century governor of South Carolina who later represented the state in the U.S. Senate.
“I’m embarrassed to say that there are things on this campus that I really didn’t understand,” Swinney said during Saturday’s march. “I knew the basics, but not the details. But I’ve learned, and I’ve listened.”
We all could stand to learn and listen more, as new Florida State football coach Mike Norvell did after the Seminoles’ best player, defensive tackle Marvin Wilson, challenged him on Twitter. Wilson objected to Norvell’s imprecise account of how the coach communicated with the team regarding Floyd’s death and said the Seminoles “will not be working out until further notice.”
Norvell huddled with his team the following morning, listened to their concerns and apologized for his misstep, prompting an Instagram video from Wilson in which he thanked Norvell and outlined team goals for voter registration and raising money to help minorities attend college.
Saturday morning, Norvell joined many of his players on a Unity Walk — Seminoles defensive tackle Cory Durden coordinated the event — that also attracted students from Florida A&M and Tallahassee Community College, plus other area residents.
Norvell is among many coaches embracing the opportunity to teach, and learn, while examining current events with players. That dynamic is especially evident at Georgia Tech, where men’s basketball associate head coach Eric Reveno has become the point man for a cause that now carries the #AllVoteNoPlay hashtag.
Moved by a virtual team meeting two days earlier,
Reveno tweeted June 3 that Election Day should be a mandatory day off for college athletes.
“We must empower, educate and guide our athletes to be part of the change,” Reveno wrote. “We need action. There is symbolism in every holiday, and it’s powerful.”
Reveno tagged Georgia Tech, university President Angel Cabrera, ACC men’s basketball and the NCAA on his tweet, and the idea blossomed. Coaches and schools championed the effort, and late last week the NCAA Board of Governors encouraged all athletic departments to designate Election Day, Nov. 3, as an off day.
As Reveno acknowledges, many college athletes need to register, or are registered, to vote in their hometowns, not their college towns. In those instances, absentee ballots need to be secured.
But #AllVoteNoPlay is also about overall civic engagement, which could entail volunteering for a candidate on Election Day or gathering with friends, classmates, teammates, coaches and/or professors to assess the results.
All of the above, and so much more, has transpired in less than a month, and as young people continue transforming ideas into action, it’s only the beginning.
Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence spoke Saturday in Clemson, S.C., during a protest rally over the death of George Floyd, who died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers on May 25.
LEFT: Cup Series driver Bubba Wallace persuaded NASCAR to ban Confederate flags at races and on the organization’s properties.
In 1966, boxing champ Muhammad Ali surrounded himself with youngsters in Miami when informed the draft board in Louisville, Ky., had reclassified him 1-A. Ali never spent a day in prison though he was sentenced to serve five years for draft evasion before the Supreme Court overturned the case.