A column is normally a spot for pontificating, to speak bluntly on the issues of the day and receive a gamut of feedback, from effusive praise to slanderous insults.
Not this time.
Now's the time for those of us in the privileged class to listen, really listen to what African-Americans and people of color around the world are expressing in the wake of George Floyd's brutal, senseless death.
Their fear. Their frustration. Their anguish.
Shut up and dribble?
Now's the time to hear from some of the athletes. And if some of their most poignant words can change a singe heart in the slightest of ways, that’s a start:
Basketball Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, in an editorial written for the Los Angeles Times: “Yes, protests often are used as an excuse for some to take advantage, just as when fans celebrating a hometown sports team championship burn cars and destroy storefronts. I don’t want to see stores looted or even buildings burn. But African-Americans have been living in a burning building for many years, choking on the smoke as the flames burn closer and closer. Racism in America is like dust in the air. It seems invisible — even if you’re choking on it — until you let the sun in. Then you see it’s everywhere. As long as we keep shining that light, we have a chance of cleaning it wherever it lands. But we have to stay vigilant, because it’s always still in the air.”
Phoenix Mercury forward Brianna Turner, whose parents have a combined 54 years in law enforcement, in a first-person story told to ESPN: “I think about what my father once told me when I asked why he wanted to be a police officer. He said he saw a lot of things in his community while growing up that bothered him. He didn’t like the way police were treating his neighbors. His older brother was a police officer, too, so he sort of followed his footsteps. My dad decided to be the change that he wanted to see. But here’s the thing: I hear the description of George Floyd: A 6-foot-6 black man. That’s my father, too."
Six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton: “So many people seem surprised, but to us unfortunately, it is not surprising. Those of us who are black, brown or in between, see it everyday and should not have to feel as though we were born guilty, don’t belong, or fear for our lives based on the color of our skin. Will Smith said it best, racism is not getting worse, it’s being filmed. ... Unfortunately, America is not the only place where racism lives and we continue to fail as humans when we cannot stand up for what is right. Please do not sit in silence, no matter the color of your skin. Black Lives Matter."
North Carolina Central men’s basketball coach LeVelle Moton on the ESPN's Hoop Streams: “If black people could solve the issues of racism and injustice, we would’ve solved those issues 400 years ago. But we need your help. As a historian, one thing that I’ve found and discovered is that any time change was provoked or made on behalf of black people, a lot of times there was someone who didn’t look like us who was advocating for us. Like we all love Las Vegas right now for what it is, but Las Vegas was one of the most segregated cities until Frank Sinatra said, ‘OK, I know y’all love me performing here, but unless you allow my friend over here, Sammie Davis Jr., to perform on the same stages and stay in the same hotels as me, I’m not coming back.’"
Atlanta Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce: “I wear my Hawks shirt often. It's the only access to privilege that I have in Atlanta. But if I take that shirt off and put a hat on, maybe put it on backward, that access is not granted. That access is gone."
NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace, the only African-American in the Cup series, speaking to Fox's NASCAR Race Hub: “I’ve gone through my spiels with law enforcement and have been treated differently. For me, it's just do whatever I can to get out of the situations quick and be pissed off about it and move on and whatnot. But you never forget about those incidences. Those are the moments you think about, and you think about it a lot lately. It’s like, one wrong move for me and I wouldn’t be here. Just think about that. That scares the hell out of me.”
Olympic gold medal swimmer Simone Manuel: “It’s not just about death. It’s about killing our spirits. It’s about killing our dreams. It’s about making us feel less than. It’s about dismissing and ignoring our pain. It’s about silencing our voice. It’s about punishing us when we use our voice and labeling us as ‘angry’ or a ‘threat’ rather than acknowledging we’re exercising our ‘freedom of speech.’ It’s about calling the police and using my skin color against me. It’s about clinching your purse. It’s about believing we don’t belong. It’s about failing to acknowledge and understand my very existence, my pain. It’s about repeating the sins of the past. It’s about thinking that skin color affords one’s privileges or denies basic human dignity! It’s about speaking against instead of with our fight for justice. It’s about remaining silent. This needs to be everybody’s fight!”
Did you listen?
Paul Newberry is a sports columnist for The Associated Press.Write to him at pnewberry(at)ap.org, follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/pnewberry1963 and find his work at https://apnews.com
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