This isn’t the first time, you know. No, this isn’t the first time a young Black boy lay dead on the street with his blood on the hands of someone who simply saw him as a “Black boy.”
No, there is a list a mile long of names that represent this tragic scenario.
Some of the names we have heard, like Emmett Till, the 14-year-old whose body was found in a river with a cotton gin fan tied around his neck with barbed wire just few days after he had the gall to speak to a white woman in the summer of 1955. The alleged murderers were acquitted.
Most of the names, though, we have never heard as they are buried in the annals of our nation’s racist history, a history many of us whitewash with the assumed generosity of the Civil Rights Act or some other good-intentioned but largely impotent document.
This isn’t the first time, you know. No, this isn’t the first time Black athletes took a stand.
Some we know well. Like, in Mexico City in 1968. Olympian sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos — after winning the gold and bronze medals, respectively, in the 200-meter race — raised their fists in the air to signify Black Power. They stood on that podium displaying an array of political symbols. Shoeless, they wore black socks to represent Black poverty. Carlos wore his tracksuit unzipped to showcase his solidarity with blue-collar workers. Despite the fallout — the duo was suspended from the U.S. team by the U.S. Olympic Committee and barred from the Olympic Village by the International Olympic Committee — Smith said, “If I win, I am American, not a Black American. But if I did something bad, then they would say I am a Negro. We are Black and we are proud of being Black. Black America will understand what we did tonight.”
But most Black American athletes keep quiet, keep the waters still. They make a lot of money, live luxuriously and become pop culture icons. Yet, their voices are rarely heard.
New York Times columnist William C. Rhoden wrote a fantastic book called Forty Million Dollar Slaves about the history of the Black athlete in America and his long-time reluctance to use the athletic arena as a political platform. From the Amazon.com review: “Every advance made by black athletes, Rhoden explains, has been met with a knee-jerk backlash—one example being Major League Baseball’s integration of the sport, which stripped the black-controlled Negro League of its talent and left it to founder. He details the ‘conveyor belt’ that brings kids from inner cities and small towns to big-time programs, where they’re cut off from their roots and exploited by team owners, sports agents, and the media. He also sets his sights on athletes like Michael Jordan, who he says have abdicated their responsibility to the community with an apathy that borders on treason.”
Not this week, though. FINALLY.
In the wake of the Feb. 26 shooting death of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year old, in Sanford, Fla., two of the most popular Black athletes in the world spoke up.
LeBron James and Dwayne Wade are worth over a billion dollars combined. They sell shoes, soft drinks, athletic wear, commercial space on TNT and NBC, and tickets in arenas throughout the country. Their faces are swathed all over ESPN on a daily basis.
To put it mildly, they have power.
This week, led by their stars James and Wade, the Miami Heat stepped out of their cocoons and began to take responsibility. With the snapping of a hauntingly powerful photo, the Heat took a stand and said, “THIS IS WRONG.”
Sporting Miami Heat-branded hoodies, the players showed the world that gunning down Black children in the street will not be tolerated. Not only will it not be tolerated by the Black community and liberally-inclined political pundits, it will not be tolerated from the sparkling platform of the NBA hardwood.
The Heat should not be lauded as heroes for speaking out. They should be given a nod for doing the right thing — and they should not let their voices go quiet after this photo. A hashtag and an avatar are not enough.
Keep talking, LeBron & Co. Make more noise. Make this response infectious.
Why aren’t the Orlando Magic doing it? The Miami Marlins? The Tampa Bay Buccaneers? The Jacksonville Jaguars? The Miami Dolphins? Imagine if all the pro sports franchises in Florida posted pictures like this.
What if the Florida Gators stood on the practice field as Spring Ball started, holding hands, wearing hoodies and demanding justice for Trayvon Martin? The Hurricanes? The Seminoles? The South Florida Bulls all the way to the Manatee High School players?
What if it didn’t stop at the Florida border, or with Black athletes?
It’s happening outside of the athletics arena. An inspiring protest in Sanford, Fla. drew 30,000 people. Then protests and vigils were held in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles, Detroit, Philadelphia. So, why not within it?
When athletes get on streaks or achieve amazing feats, we fans beg for more. “Keep it going!” we shout at the TV.
To the Heat, I simply say, “Keep it going!”