To speak out, or not to speak out? That is the question.
Many athletes have spoken out on social issues for decades. If they choose not to speak out, their actions have been helpful and at times essential to pushing forward fairness when it comes to eradicating systemic racial injustices.
In 1936, Jesse Owens went to the Berlin Summer Olympic Games and won four gold medals as German Chancellor Adolf Hitler fumed in his private box. Hitler propagated a superior Aryan race. Owens, in the greatest “road win” ever, embarrassed the evil Hitler.
Slightly more than 10 years later, Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers. We can debate who is the greatest baseball player ever, but there is no doubt that Jackie Robinson is the most influential athlete in the history of the United States. In fact, Robinson is among a handful of greatest Americans of the 20th century.
What Owens and Robinson did was critical in the progress, albeit glacially, of racial justice in our country. Neither icon had to say much, but their actions spoke volumes.
In the 1960s black athletes began to speak truth to power. Jim Brown, Bill Russell, and the then-Lew Alcindor led meaningful and powerful discussions.
Sprinters Tommy Smith and John Carlos wore black gloves on their right hands and raised their right arms exhibiting black power when they stood on the medal stage at the 1968 Mexico City Summer Olympic Games.
And then there was Cassius Clay. The Heavyweight Champion of the world lost in excess of three years of his prime for refusing to be drafted in the Army during the Vietnam War.
My generation of athletes, the second half of the baby boomers, were not very socially active. We were too young to serve in Vietnam and came to prominence during the happy-go-lucky 1980s.
The most prominent athlete of my generation, Michael Jordan, never wanted to weigh in on politics. However, even MJ has had enough and recently pledged $100 million to fight racial injustice.
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Despite being 57 years old, I am so proud of my favorite generation, the millennials. The most socially conscious generation since the 1960s.
Today’s athletes are fearless as they use their immense cache to combat important issues such as racial injustice, gender inequality, and voter suppression.
The greatest basketball player ever, LeBron James, uses his enormous platform to work for change. The “King” has pledged in excess of $100 million dollars to education.
For those who dispute that number, James will pay for 2,300 full scholarships to the University of Akron over the next ten years. Each scholarship is valued at $45,000. I’m pretty good at math. 2,300 X $45,000 = $105 million. Fact, not opinion.
Scores of current NBA stars have worked hard to fight for justice.
NFL stars aren’t as secure as NBA players when it comes to speaking out on these important issues.
Case in point, Colin Kaepernick, who lost his career because he kneeled during the National Anthem in protest of systemic police brutality against unarmed black men. In light of the brutal killing of George Floyd at the knee of a Minneapolis Police Officer, the former 49ers quarterback has gone from outcast to clairvoyant.
However, the tide may be changing. Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes has jumped in with both feet and spoken clearly that suppression of black voters is a major issue. When the league’s best player talks about these types of issues, the paradigm moves, to the point where NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell recently admitted that the league made mistakes three years ago during the kneeling controversy. Goodell recently encouraged players to express their feelings in the upcoming season.
All of these great athletes put their neck out and were ready, willing, and able to accept blowback for their social awareness.
And then, there is Kyrie Irving.
The Brooklyn Nets guard is out for the season following shoulder surgery. Yet, Irving is the leading voice among some NBA players opposed to the resumption of play in late July in a “bubble city” setting at Bay Lake, Florida, near Orlando.
Irving, who is somehow one of six vice-presidents of the player’s union, is communicating that he wouldn’t feel comfortable with the season resuming at a time of racial unrest. Irving also is concerned that the NBA conducting a three month sequestering in a “bubble city” of its players is inherently racist. If these messages came from a different player than Irving they would have more validity. But Irving is a certifiable troll who has seriously talked about the earth being flat. Irving has shown zero leadership ability while with three organizations. Somehow, many players are impressed with Irving as a pseudo-intellectual. But Irving is the friend we all have who bloviates with an occasional “big” word who when examined closely is really full of crap. Irving has always struck me as a sophomore psychology or sociology major who thinks he is the smartest guy in the room.
A real leader like LeBron James feels the best way for athletes to help move the needle is to apply their craft and artistry on the court and use their platform to push forward their critical social messages.
Not sure if the narcissistic Irving knows, but people can do two things simultaneously.
I would support Irving if he was concerned with resuming the NBA season due to health worries in the midst of a worldwide pandemic or if he was opposed to the league’s somewhat draconian rules of conducting their three-month quarantined exercise. But Irving is using racial unrest to put forth his brand.
Once again, Irving is out for the year. He is not going to play. Irving can work for justice reform while the league resumes play. If he even cares. Since I honestly do not remember Irving weighing in on social matters in the past.
Jesse Owens competed. Jackie Robinson persevered. Muhammad Ali lost his prime. Colin Kaepernick lost his career. Kyrie Irving is a troll who is using incredibly serious issues to keep his name relevant. His stunt is actually hurting the cause, not helping it.
“Uncle Drew” really is the crazy uncle who shows up at Thanksgiving who should be ignored.
The point guard doth protest too much, methinks.
John Sapochetti is Co-Host
The “SAP & KAT SHOW”
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Follow Him On Twitter @JohnSap25