LeBron James — the beginning of something new?
In the 20 Century, the African-American athlete’s emergence in professional sports was connected to a time of activism and the ongoing fight against Jim Crow segregation and racism.
During Jim Crow segregations, superstar athletes like Muhammad Ali, Jackie Robinson, Jim Brown, Bill Russell, Arthur Ashe, and Tommie Smith and John Carlos all used their high-profiles to address inequality and racism.
Sadly, athletes, especially African-Americans are always under political pressure to be silent and to “behave” themselves—if they expected to be economically endorsed by the White corporate world. Sadly, today’s mega million dollar Black sports stars have been corrupted by this understanding.
Therefore, many Black athletes exemplify the same selfish, self-absorbed, snobbish attitude that typifies America’s celebrity culture. Tellingly, some of these Black sports stars are even worse. These modern-day prima donnas seem to think they have zero responsibility to help uplift other African-Americans.
Indeed, many of them have abandoned Black America. Some, apparently, believe handing out some turkeys for Christmas or Thanksgiving—which is usually nothing more than a photo-op—proves that they have some social conscience. This is usually their idea of “giving back to the community.”
But when it comes to making substantive contributions—especially, if it means speaking out against injustice and racism—these folks become deaf, dumb and blind. Yet, we just saw the impact Black celebrity athletes can have—when their conscience moves them to perform selfless acts that benefits others besides themselves.
Recently, NBA players such as the Chicago Bulls’ Derrick Rose, Cleveland Cavalier’s Lebron James, and Brooklyn Nets’ Darren Williams staged silent protests by wearing “I can’t breathe” tee-shirts—echoing the final words of Eric Garner as he was put in a lynch-hold, chokehold that ended his life on a Staten Island sidewalk.
The NBA—which gives lip-service to caring for struggling communities—complained that players should not be wearing unapproved apparel. Do you think the NBA would’ve objected if the players were wearing something saying how much they loved the police, or, military soldiers?
The actions of these players should be applauded. However, Black athletes—especially, those who are superstars—should be made to understand that their financial success was built on the backs of those who struggled in the Civil Rights Movements, and, elsewhere.
African-American athletes who say they owe nothing to African-Americans—especially in regards to helping alleviating Black community’s economic problems, and, fighting racism—should then be accordingly economically ostracized by Black America.
In St. Louis, we saw the “hands up” protest statements from some players on the St. Louis Rams: tight-end Jared Cook; and wide receivers: Kenny Britt, Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey and Chris Givens—all of who have reportedly made financial contributions to the Urban League. The Ferguson Police were outraged by the righteous actions of these players and demanded punishment. However, unlike the weakness showed by the NBA neither the NFL or the Rams listened—the NFL already has enough problems trying to repair their image in wake of the public relations disaster in the Ray Rice domestic abuse affair.
Then, the other day, the Cleveland Police demanded an apology from the Cleveland Browns because wide-receiver Andrew Hawkins wore a shirt reading “Justice for Tamir Rice and John Crawford III.” The Browns declined to apologize citing Hawkins’ right to protest.
African-Americans shouldn’t allow mostly White police unions to stifle the rights of Black players to protest. Crawford was shot and killed in a Walmart while he was looking at a pellet gun—after some White folk called police assuming he was carrying a real gun. But even if it was a real gun, Ohio is an “open carry” state, and Walmart sells real guns.
Twelve year old Tamir Rice was killed, across from his home, for carrying a toy gun. He was shot within seconds of the arrival of Cleveland Police—who were called because someone thought he was carrying a real gun. Rice was shot by 26-year-old Officer Timothy Loehmann—who resigned from a previous police job because he was deemed unstable and unfit to perform his duties as a police officer. Yet, he was hired by Cleveland Police.
The stances taken by these players should be applauded, but many other Black athletes are silently staying on the sidelines and shirking their responsibility to speak out. Unfortunately, while many in the Black community support and idolize these Black sports stars, all too often these celebrities seem to feel no sense of solidarity or obligation.
We must let Black celebrity athletes know that a financial cost will be endured by those who turn their backs on Black people. During the 1968 Summer Olympic, in Mexico City, track-and-field stars Tommie Smith and John Carlos used their high profile celebrity status to stage one of the most historic protest ever in the history of sports: during medal ceremony gold-medal winner Smith and bronze- medal winner Carlos raised black-gloved fists in silent protest against what they viewed as a “human rights salute.” Smith and Carlos—in an act of great courage—the two track-and-field stars made a powerful statement against the inequality, prejudice and racism being faced by Black Americans, and other oppressed peoples in America.
These two men were widely vilified because their silent protest—with those black gloves—embarrassed many in White America, who like to preach tolerance to the world while America is filled with the kind of racism that killed great men like Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King.
Tennis player Arthur Ashe was a very unique sports star who preached education and economic equality more than athletic greatness. Ashe was famously banned by the Apartheid government of South Africa for speaking out against the White supremacist nature of the Sixties’ South Africa. Ashe understood the power of his celebrity status, and used it with moral courage, to elevate the consciousness and conscience of many around the world. During the Vietnam War, Muhammad Ali, used his stardom to denounce America’s involvement in the war, and, refused to go to Vietnam to fight.
Ali was one of strongest voices, ever, in sports against racism in America. He argued his real enemies were White racists here in America who oppressed African-Americans, and, those in America’s government who relegated Blacks to second-class citizenship. Ali never wavered in his principles—even when he was stripped of his boxing title and sent to prison. Ali is loved by hundreds of millions around the world, and today many avoid talking about his days as a brash Black man who spoke fearlessly against imperialism and racism. But Ali will remain an enduring symbol of the sports star who transcends his sport to become an icon of social change.
Ever since Slavery, Black America has been in a life-and-death struggle with racism and White Supremacy. America’s police has often been used as an arm of oppression against African-Americans. After this weekend’s killing of two NYPD officers, some—like police union chief Patrick Lynch and Congressman Peter King—are claiming this unfortunate incident is a reason why we should just accept oppression by police and the injustice we witnessed in Ferguson and Staten Island.
Ironically, Charles Barkley’s recent foolish statements gave aid and comfort to those spewing this kind of ridiculous notion—which says to keep White people “safe” police must be allowed to racially profile and abuse African-Americans. This nonsensical rhetoric, and fear-mongering, by folks like King and Lynch must be roundly rebuked—any violence that spills the blood of police officers, especially, in the aftermath of all that has happened this year, with respect to police prejudice and brutality, is, largely, the fault of those who refuse to discipline and punish police who kill and murder innocent Black people.
By doing so, they ferment distrust and hatred among African-Americans. Those who talk about their indignation to this killing of these two cops, should speak with equal outrage when cops are the killers of innocent people. The lives of police officers aren’t any more precious than the lives of others just because they wear a badge.
All lives must matter, if we expect peace. Superstar Black sports figures are in a position to give these pressing issues the visibility they require—and continue the dialogue regarding racism. Black America must demand accountability from all of our leaders and celebrities.
Sports figures who fail to support African-Americans must be punished economically. Why should we continue to support them—buying their overpriced sneakers and merchandise—if they distanced themselves from Black America when we need them to stand with us?