“We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. ” -Elie Wiesel
In 1965, apparently the cost of being black in America meant living in fear. Not just fear of crime in general, but also of those who had sworn to protect and serve. It meant bowing to the tyranny of elected officials who are neither empathetic to nor can they commiserate with the experiences of an African American. It meant speaking in the language of the unheard, while being called animals.
The thing is I wasn’t describing 1965; I was describing 2015.
But as they say, “we may be done with the past, but the past ain’t done with us.”
So this week, we watched as America’s shameful and unresolved past became our untenable present. We watched as one jury in Ferguson told the world that assassinating young black men is not a crime. And then, just in case we might have missed their message that time, we listened as they repeated it in NYC the following week.
‘Be calm,’ they advised/warned/sneered.
But, at what point is the demand for silence another form of oppression? When does calmness become a kind of complicity? As for me? I’ve never been the silent type, especially not when my life depends on it So, I have an obligation to address the issue. But I wonder if our celebrated athletes feel the same. Do our athletes have a “responsibly” or “choice” to take a stand when the world is watching? ”
” I can’t help the poor if I’m one of them, so I got rich and gave back, to me that’s the win/win.” -Jay-Z
Let’s take it back for a second,In response to unjust rulings in the Wilson and Pantaleo cases, the people cried ‘SHUT. IT. DOWN.’ and that’s exactly what happened. In NYC alone, like many before us, our generation stepped up to the plate and turned streets, schools, highways, bridges, train tracks, Macy’s Herald Square and even Times Square into the stages for public, peaceful protests. Unlike generations passed, we are doing so without a guide. We have no Malcolm, Martin or Jesse; it’s just us. We’re an interesting bunch, though; we look to celebrities and athletes for inspiration and guidance. How unfortunate that in this case, most of them are eerily silent. I suppose I get it; being an athlete is the greatest job on the planet but bears the traits of a kind of slavery. Speaking out comes with a heavy price and no one wants to upset the master the fans, owners, sponsors.
Since your favorite player was paid millions to play football, that’s just what he’s going to do. In this case, silence pays. It’s just that it also kills, numbs and perpetuates the problem.
So are athletes responsible for advocating for their communities or is it ok to opt out when you no longer identify with it? When you have made enough money to create long-term, multi-generational wealth in your family and have moved your family and friends out of the “hood,” it’s easy to forget the struggle. Who can hear a tree fall in the forest (or a shot ring out on the corner) when your private jet is that high up anyway?
One thing is clear; athlete activism is not a novel concept. 1968 brought us African American players refusing to play after the assassination of Martin Luther King and later than year, Tommie Smith and John Carlos’s iconic raised fist changed the conversation at the Summer Olympics. Frankly, given how hard black athletes had to fight to get into our national leagues, I could argue that being black and playing sports on the world stage is an act of resistance in and of itself. Sports and protest have always mixed. So, for these athletes to not use the outlets of this generation (from social media to their influence on society) is to turn a blind eye to the same people that praise and glorify them.
“What’s the price for a black man’s life? I check the toe tag, not one zero in sight I turn the TV on, not one hero in sight Unless he dribble or he fiddle with mics Look out the window cause tonight the city lit up with lights, cameras and action…” -J. cole
To Derrick Rose, Reggie Bush , St. Louis Rams players Tavon Austin, Kenny Britt and the Missouri Football team … THANK YOU. This far-too-small cohort of athletes has shown us that civic engagement is not beneath their pay grade. In doing so, they have accepted that they may lose fans, endorsements and be sent numerous threats. That is the definition of influence. In a culture where narcissism begets altruism, I used this platform to discredit our “chosen” leaders. I even stated a while ago that the impact athletes have makes them more influential than even the President of the United States. Derrick Rose, in an “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirt, has found a way to empathize with us and let us know that our cries are heard more than Obama has in front of a mic and podium. The question is “Why?”
Players like Reggie Bush, Kenny Britt and Derrick Rose grew up watching cops use the power of the badge to validate injustice. They saw kids take the wrong path because they thought they couldn’t find a better one and they saw kids who used sports as a way out. Actually, they were those kids. And if not for fortune, that life could have still been their shared reality. So for them, no amount of green can make them forget what it’s like to be poor and black. And for this we thank them and want to continue to see athletes use their platform to inspire a generation desperately seeking something in which to believe.
“You my opposer when I want freedom. You my opposer when I want justice. You my opposer when I want equality. Want me to go somewhere and fight for you? You won’t even stand up for me right here in America, for my rights and my religious beliefs. You won’t even stand up for my right here at home. “
The other day, I sat in my car and felt lost and angry. On a good day, being a big, black man is exhausting and infuriating. On a bad day, it’s apparently fatal. I don’t believe they hate me, I think they’re scared. But the feeling isn’t mutual. So, I’ll continue to live the way necessary to help my brothers and sisters and I challenge every athlete to use the voices they have to create awareness and give hope to those who just might feel like there is none left.
* walks away from podium with bow tie, blazer, and dri fit shorts on*
YOUR NEXT REP: Follow me on Twitter and IG and feel free to share and comment. All workout (and thought) partners are welcome!