Jim Brown, Arthur Ashe, Lew Alcindor(Kareem Abdul Jabbar), Muhammed Ali, Bill Russell.
The who’s who of the sports wing from the civil rights movement. Back then, when it came to the fight/and or plight of civil rights; you were either in it (all the way), or you were out (the opposition). These were serious times, if you don’t know any better ask your grandparents. Some of us can ask our own parents what it was like. As a professional athlete in those turbulent times—there was no, turn your warm up shirt inside out, then throw it on the floor— only to continue to play for a racist team owner. No. You sat out games to prove a point. If players felt injustice was afoot, they stood up like men, and hit the oppressor(s) where it hurt most. Their pockets. Human dignity should always come before anyones bottom line. You had to make your point felt,there was no room nor time for armchair activism. In 2016 not only have the times changed, but with it the money has changed as well, to astronomical numbers—hence the continue to play. The question is, why not do what your predecessors did and take a stand for inequalities, and injustices, if, you so feel it? Operative word being if. Maybe todays athletes are afraid of letting down fans, or are afraid of any potential backlash from traditional media, social media, or scared of contractual grey areas that may get them sued. Or maybe they just don’t care. As I said, these are different times, involving a totally different type of generation. The me-first generation. Surely someone stands for something, right? Professional athletes today more than ever, are more visible, more popular, and have more influence then they like to admit. Players in the NBA, and NFL share the same realm of popularity among generation X as well as the new millennial generation; as say, any rapper currently making incoherent “hits” right now. With all the recent violence in America (not that it’s a new trend),the fear, protest, and calls for peace, many athletes remain silent. No, a 3 minute PSA-esque moment on stage doesn’t suffice. Getting in the trenches with the people does. Action has historically spoken louder than words, and although having four NBA players speak on social issues looks great for star struck individuals, and works wonders for tv ratings — is it enough?
11 time world champion Bill Russell’s highest earned pay in his career was $100,000 in a year. Compare that to LeBron James who’s making $71 Million in 2016, with $23 Million being just his NBA salary. Why is that pertinent information to this conversation? Well, because in my mind LeBron should have more money by now from this year, on top of the other 12 years he’s spent in the NBA not to worry about missing game checks, if he decided to sit out games—due to protest. BY now everyone has heard the 3 minute speech at the ESPYs, from the NBA version of a quartet—who spoke on the issues involving police brutality, and the killings of unarmed black men in America. NBA players have more influence than President Barack Obama does when it come to getting the attention of the youth, yet I really don’t think talking moves anyone’s spirit for action. Wearing a shirt displaying “I can’t breathe” looks good on camera, but being out with the people, will do more for the moral of the emotional masses, than a warm up shirt. You probably say the same thing I used to say? “Well what do you want them to do?” That’s a fair question.
Back when the story broke involving Donald Sterling and his bigoted views on African Americans, the Clippers players “protested” by turning their warm up shirts inside out, so it would not display the Clippers logo. Let’s just say I was not impressed. In the 1960’s, black players would have boycotted the game. In 1961 the Boston Celtics were in Lexington, Ky to play an exhibition game against, the Philadelphia 76ers. The black Celtics players were denied entry into a restaurant due to their skin color. Do you know what the response was from Bill Russell and the Celtics? They packed their bags and went home. Fuck who was mad about it. Dignity is bigger than any game. My name and reputation are bigger than anyone’s racist views, or comments on why they had “the nerve” to not play. Again, hit them were it hurts—the pocket book.
The era of which we live in today is convoluted with self imagery, and subliminal cries for validation. Not to say that there aren’t any selfless people in our society, but how one is viewed is no longer about long term reputation, but how strangers you’ll never meet see you in the moment.
Me First Generation
Social media for some, is a way to reinvent yourself or create a larger than life persona, and if you’re not careful, you too will believe that which isn’t true. Social media to me is the ultimate gift and curse. It can be used to advertise or grow a business, keep up with family, or be used for the growing instant gratification culture that is prevalent in our society. Professional athletes can use Facebook, Twitter or whatever they want, because they like you and I live in the land of the free. It’s easier for them to connect to fans now than it has ever been, and that goes without saying. However, it’s also a way to connect to whats going on in our society, with the touch of a button. No one really needs the mass media truth be told. Ball players don’t need reporters, or anyone in the media. If they wanted to they can get their feelings out there for the world to hear, whether it’s over police brutality, or a contract dispute, and why they do or don’t is truly their prerogative. But riddle me this, back in the 60’s… scratch that…back in 1947 when Jackie Robinson kicked in the color barrier door, and gave his peers confidence to stand up for what they believed in—why didn’t athletes of color just give up and except the bullshit going on around them? Surely there were me-first guys in the Civil Rights Era. Not that each and every athlete needs to lift every voice and sing, but tweeting, “stop the violence” does nothing for anybody who participates in violent activity. But I get it, by writing within those 140 character guidelines or writing on your wall, no one can say you didn’t “try”, or didn’t “speak on the situation”. That same mentality, is the same one that most people have when a black man is murdered in the hood everyday. It didn’t happen to any of your loved ones so back to your regularly scheduled program that is your life. Trust me I get it. You have a cushy life, why rock the boat? There are foreign cars in your garage, models want to be next to you, and what worries does a rich man really have? Well, ask Thabo Sefolosha.
No one is expecting anyone of these athletes to turn into Malcolm X, MLK, or even the great Jim Brown, whom is still going strong as an activist at age 83. Sports stars being silent on social issues is nothing new. Shit look at Jordan. He continues to sell $200 shoes, market them as “exclusive” and never says a damn thing about the bloodshed as a result of his product that effects people that look like him. Tiger Woods has never claimed his black side until he got in trouble, Kobe spent 20 years being silent, and todays “stars” use social media as the easy way out to speak on issues. Convenient activism. The old adage change starts with self remains true today, but in an era where celebrity worship is at an all-time high, should any of us tie any of our “hope investment” into a millionaire, just incase his fame can change the minds of some? Or should we the people concentrate our efforts for change—with the people who invest in the people who want it?
Writer for TheCouchSports.com, LiveFromWoodward.com, & PTA. Editor, and Co-Host of The Couch Sports Podcast, and a Certified Beardsman.