Story written by Robert Daniels
For those who don’t know their sports history, the recent attention on political protests in sports may seem to be new. But it’s time to make it known, that it isn’t and decide once and for eternity, do we want our favorite athletes to be silent or noisy when it comes to how our American society works?
Long before Colin Kaepernick decided to take a knee during the San Francisco 49ers’ first preseason game of 2016, there was a history of protest and battling for the civil rights of Black people in America.
In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s Jack Johnson, the heavyweight champion, would openly and defiantly date white women despite knowing the laws that prohibited it.
In fact, in 1912, he was convicted of taking his white girlfriend across state lines, before their marriage, in the deep south and was sentenced to five years in prison. He fled to Europe for 7 years before ultimately serving the sentence in 1920.
The gold standard of outspoken Black athletes will always be Jackie Robinson, Jim Brown and Muhammad Ali.
Robinson, who was the first Black man to play in a Major League Baseball game, was a supreme all around athlete. He lettered in four sports, in college! That would never happen today. At UCLA his prowess in baseball was matched by football, track nd basketball. In fact, historians say baseball was his worst sport.
Anyway, Robinson had his own back of the bus story when he was in the Army and refused to move to the back. He was brought up on charges and court-martialed. And though he was ultimately acquitted the incident stayed with him forever. Then in 1947 when he broke the color barrier, he endured more than his share of injustices of which made him think about how he felt about the national anthem.
Robinson wrote in his 1972 autobiography, As I write this twenty years later, I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world. In 1972, in 1947, at my birth in 1919, I know that I never had it made.
Hmmm, sounds a little like Kaepernick.
Most of us know the story of Muhammad Ali and his decision to not fight in the Vietnam War because as he put it “I ain’t got no quarrel with the VietCong… No VietCong ever called me n*****.” But consider this, with the anti-muslim society that we currently live in, I am not sure if Ali would even be accepted in the same way he was revered by the time of his passing, if he made a similar stance today.
Our society, in general, and mainstream media, in particular, have developed a mindset that no longer allows for nuanced thinking.
Isn’t it possible for Black lives to matter and still believe all other lives matter. Just because someone believes the flag symbolizes one thing doesn’t mean it can’t mean something else to another person. Isn’t that the essence of the first amendment.
I digress. There are many athletes that have been integral in pushing our civil rights and liberties forward in America. Some of those include basketball legends Bill Russell and Lew Alcindor (later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), football hall of famers Jim Brown and Clem Daniels and track and field olympic medalists John Carlos and Tommie Smith.
All of them were told in one way or another they were to be seen and not heard. All did it anyway.
In the past 20 years there has been a void left by greats such as Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and my personal hero Magic Johnson, whose business acumen is without question but has not necessarily been quick to take the hard line against oppression, in the public eye.
Johnson has always preferred to make changes in the neighborhoods through economic growth, which does help.
Jordan and Woods have been too worried about their brand to take the stand we need. But I can’t say I know their every day ins and outs. So maybe I don’t see it all.
Today, the landscape is building for another revolution, thanks in part to Kaepernick, who has since the inception begun to receive death threats and hate mail.
The best basketball players in the world are chiming in. LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul among others have also ignited the conversation on social justice, so perhaps, we are headed in the right direction.
Now it up to us, the citizens, to make sure the discourse keeps moving to understanding the issue and looking and implementing real world solutions.
This has happened before and progress was made, but this is not the end.