Athletes On Social Issues

Players are rightfully speaking out.

Jim Rome
June 01, 2020 - 9:51 am
Stephen Jackson

USA Today


A lot of teams and a lot of brands have released statements over the last few days. And most of them are fairly unmemorable. But the Washington Wizards players released a statement on twitter that is memorable:

We will no longer tolerate the assassination of people of color in this country.
We will no longer accept the abuse of power from law enforcement.
We will no longer accept ineffective government leaders who are tone-deaf, lack compassion, or respect communities of color.
We will no longer shut up and dribble. 

The days of “shut up and dribble” are over. They never should’ve existed to begin with. The argument that athletes should not speak out about social issues has always been a terrible argument.

Telling athletes to “stick to sports” when they speak out about their own life experiences has never been about sticking to sports, it’s been about ignoring what athletes have been saying. It’s been about plugging your ears and shouting down the life experience of the people you cheer for, because their message makes you uncomfortable.

It needs to be over now.

Boston Celtic Jaylen Brown drove 15 hours from Boston to Atlanta to march in his hometown. Tobias Harris marched in Philadelphia.

Members of the Minnesota Timberwolves joined former NBA player Stephen Jackson on Friday as he spoke about his friend, George Floyd.

"I'm here because they're not gonna demean the character of George Floyd, my twin," Jackson told supporters. "A lot of times, when police do things they know that's wrong, the first thing they try to do is cover it up, and bring up their background -- to make it seem like the bullsbleep that they did was worthy. When was murder ever worthy? But if it's a black man, it's approved.

"You can't tell me, when that man has his knee on my brother's neck -- taking his life away, with his hand in his pocket -- that that smirk on his face didn't say, 'I'm protected.' You can't tell me that he didn't feel that it was his duty to murder my brother, and that he knew he was gonna get away with it. You can't tell me that wasn't the look on his face."

Houston Rocket Thabo. Sefolosha, who suffered a broken leg and torn ligaments, in an incident with police in 2015, said that seeing the video of George Floyd brought back terrible memories: "I was just horrified by what I saw. That could have been me."

Michael Jordan issued a statement that read in part: "I don't have the answers, but our collective voices show strength and the inability to be divided by others. We must listen to each other, show compassion and empathy and never turn our backs on senseless brutality. We need to continue peaceful expressions against injustice and demand accountability. Our unified voice needs to put pressure on our leaders to change our laws, or else we need to use our vote to create systemic change. Every one of us needs to be part of the solution, and we must work together to ensure justice for all."

Yesterday, Atlanta Braves legend Dale Murphy put forth a string of powerful tweets about his son’s experience protesting in Denver:

Last night, my son was shot in the eye with a rubber bullet while peacefully protesting for justice for George Floyd. His story is not unique. Countless others have also experienced this use of excessive police force while trying to have their voices heard.

Luckily, his eye was saved due to a kind stranger that was handing out goggles to protestors shortly before the shooting and another kind stranger that drove him to the ER. Others were not so lucky and will be permanently disabled due to excessive police force

As terrible as this experience has been, we know that it's practically nothing compared to the systemic racism and violence against Black life that he was protesting in the first place. Black communities across America have been terrorized for centuries by excessive police force.

If you're a beneficiary of systemic racism, then you will not be able to dismantle it at no cost to yourself. You will have to put yourself at risk. It might not always result in being physically attacked, but it will require you to make yourself vulnerable.  

The conversation right now does not need to be about what is and isn’t an appropriate form of protest. It needs to be about the issues that are being protested. It needs to be about the videos we keep seeing, the lives that keep being taken. It needs to be about excessive use of force by police on Black men and women. And the fact that there are rarely consequences for that.

And those of us who only experience moments like this by watching on TV or on our phones need to do more than just observe. Those of us who are not directly impacted by this on a daily basis, those of us who don’t have to deal with the fear that Lloyd Pierce talked about, can do more and we have to do more.

As Dale Murphy tweeted: “If you're a beneficiary of systemic racism, then you will not be able to dismantle it at no cost to yourself. You will have to put yourself at risk. It might not always result in being physically attacked, but it will require you to make yourself vulnerable.”

That is the challenge in front of us. Those of us who are comfortable, need to be made uncomfortable. Because if you’re comfortable right now, that’s a problem.