Thursday, October 1, 2020

Why The Black Pro Athlete Is Sick and Tired!

September 2, 2020 by  
Filed under News, Opinion, Politics, Sports, Weekly Columns

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( “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired” (Fannie Lou Hamer, 1964)

Taking a stand for justice comes with a hefty price tag. If you happen to be a black pro athlete, the cost might be your career. Muhammad Ali, one of pro boxing’s greatest athletes, is a testament to the price a black athlete has to pay for siding with social justice.

“My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America. And shoot them for what? They never called me nigger, they never lynched me, they didn’t put no dogs on me, they didn’t rob me of my nationality, rape and kill my mother and father. … Shoot them for what? How can I shoot them poor people? Just take me to jail.”

These words still carry immense weight. Ali’s refusal to participate in the Vietnam War resulted in his failure to obtain a boxing licence for the next three years. He was also stripped of his title and sentenced to 5 years in jail. The refusal of a black man to take part in a war that was quite popular among Americans at that time did not sit well with sports bodies or even the establishment.

ali 2020 - black athletes

Today, we are once again witnessing hatred against black athletes taking a stand for Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Jacob Blake and countless other blacks that have been a target of police brutality and institutional racism. But the black man and black athletes have had enough. They are not ready to sit back to hollow assurances of reforms.

National Football League – Black Players Join Together

Black men account for 70% of the players in the NFL. But that does not mean they dominate the sport or have any say in it. Colin Kaepernick is a glaring example of how the system is rigged and quite ruthless against black players. Kaepernick’s continuous kneeling during the national anthem throughout the 2016 season and speaking out against racism did not earn him any favours. He is a free agent for the last three years, which many say is the result of his political beliefs.

One can argue that in a league that has 70% black players, this cannot be possible. But the reality is that it is possible and Kaepernick is just one of the many players who are facing such issues. Unfortunately, the unity we see in Black Lives Matter has not reached the NFL until very recently. Along with the players, team owners are also making their voices heard.

Indianapolis Colts owner spoke in favour of the Black Lives Matter along with the owner of San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers are also flying a Black Lives Matter flag in their stadium. With mounting pressure from the players and activists; The NFL has allowed players and staff to support visuals fighting injustice and in support of Black Lives Matter. The NFL will also feature the stories of victims of police brutality and injustice in an effort to bring greater awareness.

NBA Joins the Fight Against Injustice

What’s common between Ali and today’s black pro athletes (most, if not all) is that they are fighting for social justice. But this fight for social justice is not confined to the NFL. Even the NBA is playing its part now. When the call to move ahead with the playoffs was made, many termed it as a distraction. A general manager of one of the NBA’s top team told a journalist that “you know and I know why we are playing — for the money.”

Although it seems money was not good enough an incentive. Players forced the NBA and team owners to allow them to showcase messages on their attire. During conferences, players openly discussed police brutality, social justice, and unfairness. “Black Lives Matter”, “I Can’t Breathe” were some of the phrases that were seen on players’ attires. Just when America was thinking that the people had forgotten about George Floyd, Jacob Blake happened.

A few days ago, NBA playoff games were called off after players refused to take to the court. The Milwaukee Bucks demanded justice for Blake who was shot in the back 7 times by a police officer. One might be forgiven to think that this was just a one-off incident given the lack of unity among players. But this time, it is different. Following the footsteps of the Milwaukee Bucks, the rest of the league teams also went to strike.

Major League Baseball Finds Its Way

When it comes to social movements, MLB was always the first to set the ground for other sports bodies in America. However, this time, MLB is the last. That does not mean that the organization is looking the other way when the whole of America is in the grip of a movement demanding justice and greater accountability. But the response is not as uniform as the NBA and other leagues.

Some teams have altogether boycotted their matches, while others are still playing. Individual players have decided to opt-out as a way of recording their protest. Despite the lukewarm response, one thing is clear- even MLB teams and players could not sit by while the whole of America is reeling from Black Lives Matter protests and police brutality against blacks. They have responded in whatever they thought fit.

Black Women Athletes Are Setting an Example

Black sportswomen are not letting the males take the center stage. They, too, are playing a great role in advocating for social justice (sick and tired of being sick and tired). Darcy Bourne’s viral social media photograph from June in many ways led the charge from black sportswomen. The photo of Bourne holding a placard “Why is ending racism a debate?” was shared by the likes of Martin Luther King III and F1’s Lewis Hamilton.

Black Lives Matter - black athletes

Today, Eniola Aluko is more relevant than ever. Aluko voiced concerns about suffering racism at the hands of head coach Mark Sampson. But as is often the case, Aluko was shunned by her teammates who had come out in support of the coach, including her black teammate. After three years and on the back of global protests, Nikita Parris issued a rare apology to Aluko, affirming that it was wrong of her to look the other way.

The teenage tennis star, Coco Gauff has also had enough. At a very young age, she is showing a strong political consciousness. After Roger Federer posted a black image on his Instagram as a sign of support to black lives, Gauff did the unthinkable. She responded with a list that would actually help make a difference. On top of the post, users could read “Educate yourself [because] this doesn’t go away once the topic isn’t ‘trending.” It is a clear indication to others – do not support or post just for the sake of getting on the bandwagon. Make a difference by doing something practical.

Final Thoughts

America shouldn’t be needing its black players to protest & advocate for something that is a nation-wide problem. Calling the deaths of Trayvon Martin, George Floyd, Jacob Blake and many others as a black man’s problem is outright wrong. Social injustice and police brutality is America’s problem. It would certainly be better for the States to tackle the problem as ONE rather than leave it to the black athletes & BLM movement.

Considering the responses to the BLM and kneeling during the national anthem, America still hasn’t learned its lesson. Counter movements like “All Lives Matter” & “Blue Lives Matter” are just fuelling further hate and divisiveness. Only when blacks are accorded the same respect and stature as a white man, can we move onto All Lives Matter. Until then, Black Lives Matter is not just a necessity but also the right course for America.

Staff Writer; Stanley G. Buford

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