More Ali's, More Kaepernicks: Why Professional Black Athletes Are Needed To Cultivate Change Today
It takes a village
A black man's daily reality in America includes, being a 'threat' or looking 'suspicious.' You don't have to be 6 feet tall, 225 pounds or have locks in your hair to seem menacing; you simply have to be black. As it pertains to social issues and injustice in the U.S., more often than not, blacks are the ones at the center of attention. From Rodney King to Ferguson, Missouri, these scenarios highlight one unrelenting aspect of living in America — inequality in the land of equal opportunity. Although this mistreatment happens to regular people on a daily basis, it affects the ones in positions of power, too.
If Barack Obama had a son in today's America he would look like Trayvon Martin. When racism prompted someone to damage Lebron James' Los Angeles home, they chose the most devastating word known to our race, so he would feel inferior. Arguably, the two most iconic black men in this country and in the world are reminded repeatedly that they are still black no matter where they fall on the social spectrum.
A very finite minority of the black men in this country happen to be professional athletes like James. Unfortunately, these men are always in the limelight, and everything that they do is on record. Their lives are broadcasted daily, so each of their actions inevitably means something to the general public. Not only do they mean something, but they also hold a great deal of weight. When a star athlete is thrust into the public eye he typically does one of two things: either uses this image for good or uses it for evil.
Beginning with Jackie Robinson’s activism and breaking of the color barrier in major professional sports, many have since used their platform for not good, but great influence. Fortunately, the pioneering role models, who black children look up to, have spoken out against the racial prejudice that we all face each day.
Muhammad Ali wasn’t afraid of anything or anyone, not even the U.S. government or a prison sentence stripping him of his Heavyweight title. He was feared as a boxer, but respected as a man and activist. The athletes of the 60’s, most notably Bill Russell and Jim Brown, stood united with Ali in his stand for the civil rights of black and brown people. Not only were these athletes the best in their particular sports shortly after Jim Crow laws ended, but they also used their likeness for good measure, which paved the way for future generations of culturally woke individuals in sports to come. It took those three, among others in the earliest years of black sports icons, to set the stage for polarizing figures such as Craig Hodges of the early 90s Chicago Bulls and of course the likes of Colin Kaepernick, too.
In 1991 before the Bulls’ first NBA Finals vs the Lakers, Hodges was outspoken about racism in America because their games were played at the same time of Rodney King’s brutal beatings. During the Bulls’ 2nd Finals of their three-peat, he was outspoken about racism in the NBA, in particular, black representation in the front office and on the sidelines. His antics lead to him being blacklisted by the league, and now a black man in the NFL is receiving the same mistreatment as the cycle repeats itself. It’s all one in the same, Ali, Hodges, Kaepernick, it just doesn't matter.
As a black man in America, you have to stay in your place and do as you are told. An upheaval or rebellion can, or will, in some instances, get you killed — ask Nat Turner. But the countless number of athletes, who contradict these unwritten rules have to continue speaking out for our future. The discourse about and the light shed on institutionalized racism has to increase for anything to be done about it, which is why athletes are the best activists. They can get people to listen and reflect on race relations today because we are almost programmed to stop and stare.
Sports are much of what drives this country and brings people closer together. In a nation politically and culturally divided, we use sports as a time of healing and coping with the multitude of issues plaguing our society. As black kids, who are looking for someone to aspire to be, the first place to turn is usually your favorite athlete.
The fearless attitude of not biting your tongue in times of universal need should be demonstrated by our athletes with a platform like Kaepernick’s. When an influx of professional and also college players and teams stood in solidarity with Kaepernick, it at least kept the discussions going.
All we can ask from our athletes today is to keep it going… and going and going because eventually they will listen and black lives will be changed. In this world, sometimes the only way to make change is to be the change you can see.
We see black athletes dribbling a ball or running a route enough, but their words can strike up the most conversations. An increase in socially conscious professional athletes is vital because it takes a village.
Thankfully, there’s enough of them out there to help rally the troops.