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Opinion: Where Does Sports Go With The Fight Against Social and Racial Injustice?

With all major sporting events happening right now what does this mean for the resurgence of the fight for civil rights in America?

Kofi Amankwaa Jr.
Sep 11, 2020 · 10 min read

I changed and rewrote this opinion piece several times. Initially I wanted to put this article out as far back as July when we were underway with the return of sports in the United States. I initially wanted to dissect on how things have changed since the mass resurgence of the Black Lives Matter Movement. I wanted to analyze and give a perspective on how each of the major sports leagues in America have handled the responses and if they were serious about keeping the masses informed on what’s going on and if there’s any major changes in the approach of how the leagues have treated not only Black people but towards other races and genders as well. I kept changing the article because recent events kept transpiring and it was difficult to parse my thoughts into a single piece when so much was going on. I needed to make sure that my thoughts were on point with the current events and how each major sporting league handled itself for the fight for civil rights in America.

It is difficult to say if things truly are changing for the better. It certainly is not worse but one can’t help but wonder if the sports world has truly made major strides in pushing for true equality. I have seen the Black Lives Matter postings on the NBA courts. I have seen multiple athletes kneel together during the National Anthem. I have seen the t-shirts and jerseys with messages such as ending police brutality, how many more innocent Black lives need to be taken, education reform, and whatnot. This is all good and credit to the athletes for taking steps in bringing awareness to what is truly important. At the same time, I wonder if anybody is truly listening to these players when they are speaking in regards to civil rights issues in America and if they are taking these messages to heart.

© Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images/CBS Sports

Sports have a long had a weird dissociative effect on society. It is an entertainment industry meant to serve as both a spectacle to watch the peak of the human physique in action while providing amusement for the public. You would never think the words “civil rights,” “black lives matter,” or “end systematic oppression” whenever you are watching some dude do a 360° dunk on a rim. It is not something that would be on your mind at the time. As some might say, watching sports is like a kid going to the candy store and tasting all the treats. You are never bothered by real world consequences. It is escapism from your everyday problems.

But every now and again, the real world problems creep into the world of sports and it is hard to just simply “stick to it” when so much is going on.

This year was pretty evident when George Floyd — a 46 year old African American man — was killed by police during an arrest in Minneapolis, MN for allegedly using a counterfeit bill. Derek Chauvin — a white police officer — placed his knee on Floyd’s neck for supposedly 8 minutes and 46 seconds. While nobody was saying that Floyd was a saint, his actions didn’t warrant for his death; especially since he was already handcuffed and no longer a threat. This action brought about the protests against police brutality, police racism, and lack of accountability for law enforcement. People were getting sick of the killing of unarmed Black people and wanted to do whatever they could to put an end to it. Almost every single person in the world — regardless of status — marched in protest to bring awareness of this issue.

This eventually trickled down to the sports world.

But every now and again, the real world problems creep into the world of sports and it is hard to just simply “stick to it” when so much is going on.

Stephen Jackson — a former professional basketball player and one time NBA champion — was friends with Floyd and spoke publicly about the death of his friend while surrounded by well-known Minnesota Timberwolves’ players like Karl Anthony Towns and Josh Okogie.

“To my white brothers, I love you,” Jackson said. “Every race here, I love you. But it comes to a point now, where if you love me and you not standing on the side of me, then your love don’t mean sh*t.”

“I’m at the point now where I’m tired of being the bigger person. I’m tired of walking around and seeing white kids and feeling like me being or having a big heart and giving love to every race and we’re not getting it in return.”

The message was heard and soon after that we saw several athletes march in protest demanding justice for George Floyd and ending the systematic abuse towards Black and Brown people.

Ironically this wouldn’t be the first time athletes have spoken out against racism and police brutality. After Eric Garner was killed by police you saw several NBA and WNBA players wear “I Can’t Breathe” shirts during warm-ups.

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© USA TODAY/Getty Images/NBA

Sterling Brown of the Milwaukee Bucks dealt with police brutality himself when he was tackled to the ground and tasered by police when he was supposedly suspected of resisting arrest. The case was not referred to the prosecution after internal review. Brown vehemently spoke out against the Milwaukee Police Department and expressed his disappointment and anger in an article he wrote for The Player’s Tribune.

“The city of Milwaukee wanted to give me $400,000 to be quiet after cops kneeled on my neck, stood on my ankle, and tased me in a parking lot,” Brown said in his article. “But here’s the thing: I can’t be quiet. I rejected the offer because I have a responsibility to be a voice and help change the narrative for my people. In order to do so I have to tell my story, so dialogue and conversations about police brutality can help influence and change a corrupt system. It goes deeper than me just illegally parking.”

Athletes have been active and used their platform to make their message known. They are making it clear that there are things bigger than winning a championship. It is good thing that they are doing. One question remains though: have people been truly paying attention to what they have been saying or is it just simply a onetime thing and people keep it moving?

Here we are now in September and while athletes have continuously spread awareness in regards to systematic racism and civil rights abuse one can’t help but feel that the message is somewhat being diluted despite professional players’ best efforts to get the point across to the masses. This was evident when Jacob Blake — a 29 year old African American — was shot in back seven times by police when he opened the driver’s door to his SUV and leaned in. This incident caused furor among the public and even more so in the sports world. The Milwaukee Bucks were especially frustrated given the incident happened at the team’s home statement and since one of their own was a victim of police brutality the incident hit them the hardest. It got to the point where they weren’t going to play a game to really drive home the point that this kind of action is unacceptable.

Soon afterwards all professional sporting teams followed suit. The WNBA, NHL, MLS, and even MLB refused to play any games for that day. It was something unheard of and highlights the power that athletes have when it comes to taking action and pushing for something that they truly believe in. Something needed to be done and action was indeed taken. Sports could no longer serve as a distraction to real world issues.

Here we are now in September and while athletes have continuously spread awareness in regards to systematic racism and civil rights abuse one can’t help but feel that the message is somewhat being diluted despite professional players’ best efforts to get the point across to the masses.

So people have understood the point and are doing something about it right? Well, it remains to be seen.

This isn’t something that happens overnight. No matter how badly you wished more was being done to fight racial injustice, athletes and by extension coaches and other sports personnel can only spread awareness and make some steps to get the “ball rolling” as they say. The Bucks were kind of enough to contact Jacob Blake’s family and lend their support. They held a conference call with Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul and Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes after boycotting Game 5 to likely have the police officers who shot Blake arrested. The Bucks are serious in regards to ending police brutality and racial injustice and what they did effectively backs their beliefs.

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© NY Liberty/WNBA

The WNBA also showcased that they are not backing down from fighting for social justice either. If anything they have been in the forefront of said fight. When Senator Kelly Loeffler — who also is the co-owner of the Atlanta Dream — criticized the WNBA for its commitment to social justice this season and disparaged the Black Lives Matter movement none of the athletes backed down from her critiques (even her own team). If anything they went harder by endorsing her opponent Dr. Raphael G. Warnock and images of their support flooded mainstream media before a nationally televised game between the Atlanta Dream and the Phoenix Mercury. The player’s union also called for Loeffler’s removal as an owner despite Commissioner Cathy Engelbert’s assertion that Loeffler would not be forced to sell the team.

All these actions are great but I’m not sure if any of them are truly resonating with the masses that watch these athletes despite them constantly spreading awareness.

News networks have highlighted the protests, the boycotts, the kneeling during the National Anthem, etc. However, I don’t really see much in terms of open discussions and legit perspectives on actions that need to happen so that tragedies like what happened with George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, or Jacob Blake don’t happen again. It was a moment and then people have quickly moved on to talk about something else. You can attribute that to the fast-paced, social media influenced nature of the news cycle where every single story is immediately mentioned and replaced by the next big story and so on and so forth. That is not to say that ending racial injustice is not of any importance but other stories are supposedly generating more interest for news outlets than a story that’s been on focus for the past couple months.

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So to answer the question where do sports go with the fight against social injustice? Well, it depends as to how far sports can take said fight. There has been some minor progress in regards to that. Professional athletes like tennis superstar Naomi Osaka continue to spread awareness in several unique ways (in her case, wearing a different mask every day containing the names of those who have been killed by the police). The Washington Football Team finally changed their name after utilizing the very racist “Redskins” brand for years. More Black coaches and executives are now being offered job opportunities. The Washington Football Team recently announced that they have hired Jason Wright as the team’s first Black President for the organization. Becky Hammon — associate head coach of the San Antonio Spurs — is being considered for a head coaching job in the NBA. Not to mention NBA owners are setting up their arenas as polling places for the upcoming presidential election. So efforts are being done to improve better relations with all races and gender.

That doesn’t mean things are perfect. Jonathan Mattingly, Brett Hankison, and Myles Cosgrove have not answered for their actions involving the death of Breonna Taylor. The same can be said about the officers that killed Elijah McClain, Daniel Prude, and so many others. There is also the fear that said message for fighting social injustice could end up being used in a marketing motif and the message is muddied. Colin Kaepernick still doesn’t have a job in the NFL despite the league’s claims to be more open to players who want more done in the fight against racism and police brutality and he was at the forefront of the messaging before not being picked up by any team since he started his protesting back in 2016. There are also still lingering questions on how sports owners will reevaluate their relationship with the police and there are no real easy answers.

There is no guarantee that the sports world will continue this fight from here on out. However, if the athletes are serious about pushing for real change then the future can be a bright one if people let be.

*additional content from Yahoo Sports, ESPN, Sports Illustrated, Bleacher Report, CNN, CBS News

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Kofi Amankwaa Jr.

Written by

SportsRaid, InDemand, Thrillist, VIBE, hibu, 1&1 Internet, and Amplify, Inc. Penn State Alumnus. Insufferable Blerd. kantinka2@gmail.com for business inquiries

SportsRaid

Original reporting and curated sports data journalism. Actively looking for additional writers.

Kofi Amankwaa Jr.

Written by

SportsRaid, InDemand, Thrillist, VIBE, hibu, 1&1 Internet, and Amplify, Inc. Penn State Alumnus. Insufferable Blerd. kantinka2@gmail.com for business inquiries

SportsRaid

Original reporting and curated sports data journalism. Actively looking for additional writers.

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