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.

Comic books, football players, ICE intertwined?

“We found one bloated, cruel, and useless agency that is begging to be abolished.”

My old friend Catbird asked:

Hi Roger—

When I heard rump’s “maybe they shouldn’t be in this country” comment about football players staying in locker rooms the other day, I wondered if they’d “pass” the Comic Book Code of America. I remember you explaining this to me decades ago. I suppose it depends on whether anybody acts on it.

What do you think?

Might it be worth a blog item?

I hope all is well with you and your “bearers of two X chromosomes.”

It had not occurred to me, but I suppose both the Comic Code Authority (1954-2011) and the NFL owners’ new policy requiring on-field player and personnel to stand for the national anthem were both self-regulating actions designed to make the federal government leave them alone.

In the case of comic books, the industry was worrying, rightly, that the government might want to regulate it, to “protect the children.”It agreed submit the comics to a board for a stamp of approval. No excessive violence, no drug use shown, et al.

The owners of the NFL just wanted the bad press to go away – n.b., didn’t happen. They are worried about the bottom line, with ratings down substantially, although that may not be just a function of the anthem imbroglio.

There’s a more significant question you ask here: when DO we say in America, “My way or the highway?” Certainly, I’ve heard, “America, love it or leave it” a few times, usually when I was protesting some war, mostly Vietnam, but also Iraq. Yet, as I was wont to say, “I stay, and protest, BECAUSE I love America.”

When HAS the United States actually thrown people out of the country? In the past, not very often, in the vast scheme. It wasn’t until 2002 when the United States actually had an agency whose primary function appears to do just that.

As Full Frontal with Samantha Bee put it on May 23: “For Republicans looking to cut government fat, we found one bloated, cruel, and useless agency that is begging to be abolished. And no, ‘President’ is not considered an agency.”

It is, of course, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency. I appreciate it when the ICE agents remove some MS-13 gang member. But, much more often, they are seen as a source of terror in the immigrant community, even for those who are here legally.

As someone approaching Social Security, I find this problematic, not just from a moral and ethical position, but from an economic one. Driving out productive young people from the country is a recipe for federal fiscal disaster.

So, there’s a lot of bluster about people needing to leave the country. But it won’t be football players going. Unless they were born elsewhere.

Economic Census, Women’s March, football

Some think NFL ratings are down because of players taking of a knee during the national anthem.

A few items that might not generate a whole post:

I went to New York City on January 16 to visit our center at Pace University. The librarians are divvying up the state to find out how we can serve them better. After that, the center director, Andrew. and I met with some folks from the Census Bureau, led by Andy.

Andy and his colleagues were touting the 2017 Economic Census, which will take place electronically in May 2018. This allows them to generate data that help businesses to make decisions on location, demographic trends and the like.

I was REALLY happy I didn’t go down the following day, because it snowed, not just in Albany, but in NYC. Snow in NYC makes travel dreadful.
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A bunch of folks met at my church to walk down to the Women’s March in Albany on January 20. Some guy commenting on my Times Union blog said there wouldn’t be 10 people at the event. I replied that there would be more than that going just from my church, and that was true.

I’m lousy at crowd size guesstimation, but I heard everything from three to six thousand. In any case, there were so many there, good friends of mine who were present I simply did not see. But there they were all over Facebook.

I did not know that nearly 60 protesters from the J20 anti-Trump march in DC last year are still subject to prosecution, though 129 indictments were dropped.
***
I tend to watch football only in the last couple weeks of the season and into the playoffs. The first weekend I saw one game, and watched summaries of the three others online. The next weekend, I saw parts of games. But I recorded the last two games and watched them later. The trick, of course, is NOT to watch live TV, check email or social media. Ignorance in this process IS bliss.

There’s been reports that NFL viewing is down. Some think it’s because of players taking of a knee during the national anthem. Others believe it’s that, with the increased reporting of brain damage from CTE, people are less likely to watch it.

I think it is that the official reviews of every touchdown, almost every play in the last two minutes of each half, plus the coaches’ challenges take FOREVER. Still another reason for watching on tape delay. well, not TAPE…

Go, Philadelphia Eagles!

September rambling #3: taking a knee

I went to two street festivals in Albany

It occurred to me that people not familiar with American football may not understand “taking a knee” or a “quarterback kneel.”

The play occurs after the ball is snapped “when the quarterback immediately kneels to the ground, ending the play on contact… It is primarily used to run the clock down, either at the end of the first half or the game itself, in order to preserve a lead or a win. Although it generally results in a loss of a yard and uses up a down, it minimizes the risk of a fumble, which would give the other team a chance at recovering the ball.

“Especially when the outcome of the game has been well decided, defenses will often give little resistance to the play as a matter of sportsmanship as well as to reduce injury risk on what is a relatively simple play.”

This is what spiritual warfare looks like. “There is not a more perfect gesture of Christian nonviolent resistance than to kneel while the lovers of empire stand. It makes a spectacle of our worldly powers”

The Daily Show: When is the ‘right time’ for black people to protest?

Bob Costas on NFL protests and patriotism

Principled stands taken at great risk are often how movements are born

Is America Headed for a New Kind of Civil War?

Ibram Kendi, leading scholar about racism: education and love are not the answer

Nationalism Reconsidered

The Real Reason White People Say ‘All Lives Matter’ (from a white guy)

“Leave safety behind. Put your body on the line. Stand before the people you fear and speak your mind–even if your voice shakes. When you least expect it, someone may actually listen to what you have to say. Well-aimed slingshots can topple giants.” –Maggie Kuhn

John Green reviews what is known and what is not known about the Russia Scandal

Right-Wing Star Declares He’s Too Healthy For Insurance: Guess What Happened. He has a car accident and now needs a GoFundMe to pay for this hospital bills. The schadenfreude was not strong here; it was more function of irritation, way out of proportion, over his arrogance

Corporate Consolidation: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Court Rules Copyright is Not a “Use It or Lose It” Right

Hurricane names are Insufficiently intimidating

Lynn Mabry, Sheila E, Rebecca Jade in W. Springfield, MS Sept 2017

Last weekend, I went to two street festivals in Albany. Larkfest I used to go to all of the time when I was single and lived nearby, but it had been a while. I was helping Albany Public Library staff to get folks to get library cards. The Madison Street Fair is smaller, but closer. At both events, the weather got HOT; sunburn at Larkfest, which is particularly bad for me with the vitiligo, so I used an umbrella at Madison.

Amy Biancolli: turns on the slide

Veteran Voice Actress June Foray Remembered at Packed Event

A Letter of Resignation Walking away, and “the hardest thing I’ve ever written”

Closed Campus? A Case Study of Skipping at Subchunkin, a place three blocks from my house

Now I Know: The Dead Man Who Sued to Make Himself Alive and The Man Who Ate Lots of Potatoes

MUSIC

K-Chuck Radio: Motown like you’ve never heard it before

Coverville 1186: Cover Stories for 10CC, Nick Cave and Oasis

Uranium Fever – Elton Britt (1955)

Orenthal James Simpson turns 70

I remember staring at that image in Canton.

In the summer of 2016, when the family went to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, OH, one of the first of the player busts I looked at closely was that of one Orenthal James Simpson. He was one of the greatest players in the game, the first to rush for over 2000 yards in a season while playing in upstate New York’s only NFL team. He was good-looking and affable. He was mediocre at best behind the mic on Monday Night Football, but he was entertaining enough in those Naked Gun movies.

How did THIS guy go so wrong?

This past Oscar season, when I noted that I had seen O.J.: Made in America, more than one person said that they weren’t going to watch it because, they surmised, it would glorify the athlete. It was quite clear that they hadn’t viewed the film at all.

As the Boston Globe noted: “The movie turned out a lot better than expected: Wider, deeper, more thoughtful, and more thought-provoking. Not just a nostalgic rehash of tabloid titillation but a work that viewed the Simpson case through a telephoto lens of race, class, sport, celebrity, and injustice.”

I found the film oddly compelling. There was about 30 minutes in the second segment that didn’t even mention O.J. but talked about the Korean woman who shot a black person. And Rodney King, who was a black man beaten by members of the Los Angeles Police Department, and who, in a foretelling of 21st century events, were caught on camera. And Reginald Denny, the equally unfortunate white truck driver, who was beaten by rioters after those LAPD officers were acquitted.

And I remember staring at that image in Canton, only a month after watching that movie, and I was literally shaking my head, less in disbelief than in sorrow.

Orenthal James Simpson is 70, and in jail, though, I understand, eligible for parole in October 2017 for his part in a robbery.