It’s summer, and once again, like a season, the value of black lives has been called into question. The lives of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling were the latest in the novel of black lives that were lost for senseless reasons. I graudated with a degree in Criminal Justice and will be starting law school next month, where i’ll most likley get into Criminal Law after my first year. I’ve had these discussions with classmates, professors, family, random people on twitter, etc. for years. So much so that I’ve actually found myself desensitized from the cruel feeling of realizing that as a black man my life can be reduced to a hashtag at any momment. I’ve tried to limit myself from talking about these issues on social networks. Not for fear of backlash, but due to my rising suspicion that people have now begun to use the tragides of others to express faux outrage in attempt to drive up their own notoriety. The tragedy has happended so much, that individuals that I know have even tried to monetize it by connecting their brands to the Black Lives Matter Movement, in hopes that they can rise with the awareness. However, one thing that I was interested in seeing was the recent upsuruge in professional athetles inovlvement in the discussion.
For as long as I rememer, athletes have always shyed away from the concept of speaking out against social issues, specifically issues concerning race. Despite the fact that their lack of involvement shouldn’t have had much of an effect on the overall movement towards equality, it does. Athletes, specifically in the NBA, are some of the only people of color that have a consistent platform, and can speak directly to white people, who are usually the ones putting cameras and recording devices in their faces. For some, the burden is too real, and because they don’t necessairly live in the same tax bracket as their fellow African-Americans, they may fear that they can’t speak intelligently on the subject. Or even worse, they might not care to understand the issue. Regardless, this summer I’ve been floored by the intense emotion, and willingness to speak up from athletes throuhgh the use of different mediums such as Twitter, the Player Tribune, or various social networks.
The out pour of emotions from these professionals, has helped me understand just why it was so important to hear from them. With so much dialouge going back and forth, not much is ever discussed across the races or groups. Those who identify with Black Lives Matter movement, usually pay attention to those with similar interests. Most of these members are black. Most of the naysayers are white. Because of the passion of the situations, no side really takes the time to atriculate their concerns or explanations for their viewpoints or actions. This inevitably leads to no real gained traction for equality, and a country more confused and upset, then one looking for answers.
Wether you’re a liberal from Manhattan or a conservative from Sacramento, sports bring us all together. It’s one of the few forms of entertainment where people of all races, orientaions, ages, religions, etc. can come together and share a commonality. If you know any passionate sports fan (or are one yourself), than you know that what keeps you glued to your favorite sport(s) goes beyond the game. Drafts, free agency, cap room, ownership, etc. are all part of the things we follow intently. We’ve now been also introduced to the topic of social justice and sports. Two NBA front office officials have lost their jobs due to race insensitive comments. After the death of Eric Garner, some NBA teams took to wearing “I can’t breathe” T-shirts during warm-ups. The fight for inequality is no longer seperate from the sports world, and that may be a good thing for us all. If athletes, specfically star ones, are updated and educated in contemporary racial issues of today, the better they can speak on it with their platform. Using the sports medium to articulate the struggle going on in our society is a potent weapon because if used correctly, it has the ability to reach other races in a less confrontational way.
(Regardless of how you feel, that does matter. Wrong or right, people rarley react to attacks on themselves in an understanding way. For some African-Americans, the patience has worn out, and the idea of having to actually explain a position we feel is so obvious seems foregin. I hear you, but we don’t get the equality we yearn for without the active particpation of Whites.)
Our goal should be to think critically of how we can not just raise awareness, but also effectivley attack the issues. With potential for an enhanced medium due to pro atheltes, our next option should focus on more creative ways that enable the system of injustice. A professor in one of my freshmen classes once told us after the death of Trayvon Martin that we should all boycott Florida orange juice in response to the verdict. The logic was clear, attack legislators by compromising their domestic economies. At this stage in history, those who make decisions are no longer phased by our marches and tweets. Though they all play a part in raising awareness, our next step needs to have a direct effect on the people that won’t let change happen. The best way to do that is to attack their wallets.
Can athletes help lead that charge? I believe so. They all have the platform to speak and de-code loaded topics for audience members that may have never cared about the movement if they didn’t like the athlete. Opening the stream for honest dialouge between those who may be ignorant, or confused and defensive about the topic is the first step of unity. When there’s unity, equality becomes a given.
As I was writing this, Knicks star forward Carmelo Anthony had this to stay regarding the recent tragic events:
Athletes are becoming less and less scared to speak out in public. It’s our job to make sure that we attack this issue in ways that are more productive to producing the change that we ask for.