Note: In place of his typical Five Things From the Week column, 110 Sports’ Josh Doering has chosen to only talk about one thing this week. Athletes coming together to strike in support of racial equality is a historic event that deserves more than two paragraphs.
When Colin Kaepernick began kneeling in 2016, the national conversation centered around whether what Kaepernick was doing was “right” or not. It was a discussion about whether his decision was disrespectful to the flag and/or unpatriotic.
We as the general public didn’t bother to really ask ourselves why Kaepernick was kneeling and wonder if that might actually be the more important point. As a result, we spent 2016 debating about Kaepernick expressing his rights as a U.S. citizen instead of trying to address the systemic racial injustices that have been present since this country’s foundation.
Four years later, the Milwaukee Bucks refused to take the court for Game 5 of their series against the Orlando Magic on Aug. 26 for the same reasons Kapernick took a knee. A Black man named Jacob Blake got shot by police 40 miles south of Milwaukee. The Bucks decided they’d had enough.
Teams and players across sports chose not to compete in the next 48 hours in a show of solidarity with the Bucks and the fight against racial injustice. Similar questions to the one surrounding Kaepernick popped up: Should the players have gone on strike? Do you agree with their decision?
The more people’s own opinions are brought into the conversation, the less focus is put on the issues facing society, the reason players are protesting in the first place. U.S. men’s national team and Toronto FC captain Michael Bradley chose to stand during the Canadian anthem when Toronto faced the Montreal Impact on Aug. 29 for that very reason.
“I could talk about myself and give you some of my thought process, but it’s not about me,” Bradley said after the game regarding his decision. “30 seconds talking about myself is 30 seconds we should be talking about the real issues that exist in society. The conversation and rhetoric that has been created around the decision for people to basically protest by kneeling, it’s designed by the people who don’t want change and to take away from the real conversations that we need to be having every single day. That’s what they want. They want this divisive, hateful rhetoric conversation where there’s no nuance, there’s no middle ground.”
Agree with Bradley’s logic or don’t. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. But listen to what these athletes are saying. Deciding not to join the strike or standing for the anthem doesn’t mean someone is against racial equality, just like kneeling or protesting in other ways doesn’t make someone unpatriotic.
These are individuals with thoughts, feelings and emotions like everyone else. They care about more than their job and that’s a good thing. They don’t owe anyone anything because they’re athletes who provide entertainment to millions of people instead of being a teacher, doctor or accountant.
And make no mistake: The athletes who went on strike want to do their job. They didn’t go searching for a way to stop playing and cost broadcasters millions in revenue. There is no alternative agenda here.
This is about putting an end to police brutality and working toward a society where everyone is truly equal. Full stop.
What if we just sat back and applauded all the athletes trying to enact positive change in the best way they know how? There is no easy answer to such a deeply ingrained issue. Like Bradley pointed out, there have to be nuanced conversations with willing listeners.
The players essentially shut the sports world down by themselves. They made the decision not to play, not the leagues, not the owners, not anyone else.
It would be a shame if that much power and influence went to waste. As Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente once said, “Any time you have an opportunity to make a difference in this world and you don’t, then you’re wasting your time on Earth.”
When Kaepernick kneeled four years ago, we failed miserably and took the dialogue to a place it never should have gone. Even NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has acknowledged that.
We failed to listen. We failed to be empathetic. We failed to look outside of ourselves. We failed to talk about why Kaepernick and other athletes were taking a knee.
Athlete activism isn’t going anywhere any time soon. We have an opportunity to show how much we as a society have learned and grown.
Let’s make sure the narrative doesn’t get twisted again.
Photo by franchise opportunities / Flickr