Sports activism is working, maybe

Money changes everything

ColinLast week, the Milwaukee Bucks refused to play basketball against the Orlando Magic. Other NBA teams followed suit, and players from the WNBA, MLB, and other sports did likewise. And I felt that maybe, just maybe progress is slowly being made.

Sports activism, of course, is not new. Here is Athletes and activism: The long, defiant history of sports protests. One could argue whether some of the particulars are actually protesting, but that’s a quibble.

In my recollection, this story is one of the reasons I always loved Bill Russell. In 1961, “while in Lexington, Kentucky, for an exhibition before the 1961-62 season, Russell and the other black members of the Boston Celtics were refused service at a restaurant. They boycotted the game, a groundbreaking statement at a time when blacks were still expected not to complain publicly about discrimination.”

I remember a photo, probably in Ebony and/or JET from June 4, 1967. Jim Brown, Russell, Lew Alcindor, and “other prominent black athletes met in Cleveland in a show of support for Muhammad Ali, who had refused induction into the U.S. Army as a conscientious objector. Two weeks later, he was convicted of draft evasion, sentenced to five years in prison, and stripped of his heavyweight title.” Alcindor, who became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, continued to be an outspoken advocate for change.

Mexico City, 1968

I was watching the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. Black athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos stood on the podium after winning the gold and the bronze, respectively, in the 200-meter run. “They stepped onto the podium shoeless but decked out in black socks and gloves. Then they raised their fists above their bowed heads to silently protest racial discrimination.”

It was not a spontaneous act. “It was only months after the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr… In the lead-up to the Olympics, Smith, and Carlos helped organize the Olympic Project for Human Rights…” The group saw the Olympic Games as an opportunity to agitate for better treatment of black athletes and black people around the world… Though the project initially proposed a boycott of the Olympics altogether, Smith and Carlos decided to compete in the hopes they could use their achievements as a platform for broader change.”

A massacre in Mexico took place just 10 days before the opening of the Summer Games. The Mexican government “killed four (the government’s official count) or 3,000 students. Carlos and Smith were deeply affected by these events and the plight of marginalized people around the world.” Smith told Smithsonian magazine in 2008, “We had to be seen because we couldn’t be heard.”

The third man on the podium, Peter Norman of Australia, “became part of the protest, too, albeit in a less direct way.” Norman “supported his fellow Olympians’ protest, in part because of the intolerance he had witnessed in Australia.” His backing cost him his track-and-field career.

Black Lives Matter

In the 2010s, several prominent players wore apparel bringing attention to the situation on the streets. “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirts were worn by Cavaliers teammates LeBron James and Kyrie Irving and other NBA players before their games on Dec. 8, 2014. Those were, unfortunately, the last words of Eric Garner in July of that year. And of George Floyd almost six years later.

In July 2016, members of the three WNBA teams began wearing Black Lives Matter T-shirts to WNBA games to protest the recent deaths of unarmed black people in police custody.

That autumn, Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem started a movement in the NFL. In early June 2020, the NFL’s Roger Goodell admitted the league was “wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier, and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest.”

Only a week earlier, the NFL releases a statement on the death of George “Floyd and the ensuing global protests… The reactions were … in “the vein of, ‘You could have led the fight against police brutality and racial injustice four years ago, but instead, you worked against peaceful protesters like Kaepernick.'” Indeed, Kaepernick is “now a 32-year-old free agent quarterback who hasn’t played in the NFL since the last week of the 2016 season.”

As Slate noted: “Think back to the outrage of certain white NFL fans [most prominently, IMPOTUS] over the peaceful sideline protests of Kaepernick and other players against police brutality. It’s a worldview that grants Black people the right to work and entertain, to ‘shut up and play,’ but not to be full human beings or coequal members of the populace. It is not a stretch to say that this attitude is a bedrock of American racism.”

After George Floyd

The dynamics changed when the Bucks and the other NBA teams stopped playing. What they did was “several orders of magnitude greater than any act of protest we have seen in major American team sports. With the simple act of refusing to work under present conditions, they brought an entire lucrative industry to a halt and have undoubtedly brought terror to some of the country’s powerful people.

“The NBA is a league run by billionaires, in a country in which billionaires wield obscene amounts of political influence. ‘But what do the players actually want?’ people will ask, many of whom not remotely interested in the answer to that question. Well, for starters, they want more power in shaping the conditions of the country they live in. And now they unquestionably have that.

“The fact that it was the Milwaukee Bucks who took this stand is crucial in several respects. The Bucks play in the same state where Jacob Blake was shot in the back seven times. In the wake of their decision, the Bucks soon found themselves on a conference call with both the attorney general and lieutenant governor of Wisconsin.

“But the Bucks also have the best record in the NBA and are one of the two or three teams considered most likely to win this year’s bubble championship… If the Bucks refuse to play… the general premise of this entire NBA playoffs is instantly invalidated.”

Power

“The bubble has thus far been a smashing success. The level of play has been terrific, the television presentation has deftly mitigated the absence of fans, and, most importantly, there have been no virus outbreaks…” For an extraordinary two days, “all of this was put in jeopardy, because the league’s players, a group of people to whom sports are more important than literally anyone else in America, collectively declared to all Americans that certain things are far more important than sports.”

Sports analyst Jared Kushner tweeted: “What I’d love to see from the players in the NBA–again they have the luxury of taking a night off from work, most Americans don’t…I’d like to see them start moving into concrete solutions that are productive.”

From the First SIL’s lips. “Players needed something. Owners were in a position to give it to them. The asks were reasonable. They wanted a bigger voice internally. The NBA agreed to establish a social justice coalition, one represented by players, coaches, and owners.” It will “tackle a broad range of issues, from civic engagement [including voting initiatives] to advocating for meaningful police and criminal justice reform.”

Still, I continue to be pained by the poignant statement of Doc Rivers, the coach of the Los Angeles Clippers. “It’s amazing to me why we keep loving this country and this country does not love us back.”

Being a well-paid black athlete in America doesn’t prevent one from becoming a dead black person in America. Two-thirds of players in the NFL are large (scary!) black men. About three-quarters of NBA players are tall (scary!) black men. They are not immune to what has happened to, among many others, Stephon Clark or Philando Castile.

All I want for Christmas this year

There’s nothing that will fit on Santa’s sleigh

My wife asked me for my Christmas wish list. I want the new Hess toy truck, and…

I was stumped. I didn’t have a book I wanted that would sit on my “I really need to read that” pile. There’s always music but I don’t always listen to what I have already.

Unfortunately, what I REALLY want is a country that believes in encouraging people to cast their ballots and one person, one vote, rather than restricting the franchise and gerrymandering their districts.

I want a country that values our natural resources, rather than ignoring climate change and despoiling the earth for profit. “You shall not pollute the land in which you live, ” as it says in Numbers.

I want a country that doesn’t elect known sexual predators to high office.

I want a country that welcomes the immigrant and appreciate the strength that diversity brings to the country, rather than promoting bigotry and divisiveness. “Do not mistreat foreigners who are living in your land.” (Leviticus 19:33)

I want a country that provides a living wage and a secure safety net, with access to resources for those who need it, rather than tax breaks for those with private planes. “If you give food to the hungry and satisfy those who are in need, then the darkness around you will turn to the brightness of noon.” (Isaiah 58:10)

I want a country that believes in transparency of government, not backroom dealings with lobbyists.

I want a country that works for peace, not goads others into war. “Let there be peace on earth,” and all that.

You get the idea.

And the really annoying thing about my Christmas wish list is that there is not anything that will fit on Santa’s sleigh.

Even worse, in order for me to be able to get the presents I want, I, and a whole slew of other folks will have to work, to fight to make it happen.

What kind of presents are these anyway? They are the presents that require us to be present.

Ugh, activism. OK, then, let’s see how close I can get to matching up with my wishlist.

But I still want the Hess truck.

Merry Christmas.

“Their just powers from the consent of the governed”

Political parties would “push a narrow, self-interested agenda that would block the national interest” and “create a deadlocked and dysfunctional democracy” that would “leave citizens frustrated by inefficiency and ineffectiveness.”

Call me a cockeyed optimist, but I have found many things that have taken place on the political landscape in the last six months or so worthy of celebration.

There have been protests, many of them local, for banning the bomb, upholding women’s rights, protecting the immigrant and the refugee, saving the environment, and several other causes.

People are becoming actively engaged in the political process, working on special elections, running for office, or at least considering it. They are showing up at town halls when members of Congress come back to town.

The veil is coming off FOX “news”. Yet other news outlets are thriving.

A couple interviews on the Daily Show with Trevor Noah in June 2017, on successive days in June 2017, gave me encouragement. William J. Barber II is shifting the moral conversation about the poor, a group neither major candidate for President talked about last year. Among other things, Rev. Barber is the architect of the Forward Together Moral Monday Movement.

I was also taken by John Avlon. The Daily Beast’s Editor-in-Chief was promoting his new book “Washington’s Farewell: The Founding Father’s Warning to Future Generations.”

George Washington feared, he explained, that political parties would “push a narrow, self-interested agenda that would block the national interest” and “create a deadlocked and dysfunctional democracy” that would leave citizens “so frustrated by the inefficiency and ineffectiveness that it could open the door to a demagogue with authoritarian ambitions.”

And by demagogue, I mean “a leader who makes use of popular prejudices and false claims and promises in order to gain power.”

So on this Independence Day, it is important to note the words of another of our Founders, Alexander Hamilton: “Of those men who have overturned the liberty of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by playing an obsequious court to the people, commencing demagogues and ending tyrants.”

We must always push back against tyranny.

Figuring it out, post-election edition

I have to “combat authoritarianism, to call out lies, to struggle honorably and fiercely in the name of American ideals—that is what is left to do. That is all there is to do.”

donald-trump-vfw-convention-26-jul-2016I started, post-election, from the position of wanting to give Donald Trump a chance to do well, I really did. He gave a lovely, conciliatory acceptance speech, and President Obama said his meeting with the (gulp) President-elect went well.

There was a church service seeking to heal political wounds Continue reading “Figuring it out, post-election edition”

The Lydster, Part 134: Opting out

Neither my wife or I want to have our daughter become a tool to our own sense of activism, ESPECIALLY when it affects her directly.

opt-out5There has been a great deal of controversy in the state of New York about the school tests tied to something called Common Core. It is more complicated than I wish to get into here, but I wrote about it a bit in my Times Union blog.

There was a statewide movement to get students in grades 3 to 8 to opt out of the test, which was somewhat successful in many districts, including in my area.

The movement has been around a couple years, but I had not paid a great deal of attention. Continue reading “The Lydster, Part 134: Opting out”