It’s been a crazy, controversial and divisive few days in the sports world. It’s understandable that sport is used by many as an escape. As someone who identifies as ‘sportsfan’ second only to father/family man - trust me, I get it. But at a time when equality, tolerance and basic human rights are threatened far more than they should be, blissful ignorance shouldn’t be an option.
More and more, people are showing that they won’t “stick to sports” - nor should any of us.
The first amendment gives Americans the right to free speech. As a part of that right, professional athletes have the right - so long as their teams permit it (and why wouldn't they?) - to use their platform in the public eye without the President of the United States recommending their teams, as he put it, 'fire the sons of bitches'.
What can’t be lost is that this isn’t a protest against the president or the national anthem - Colin Kaepernick took a knee not out of disrespect but as a protest against a society in which he feels unsafe. The protest began as an attempt to bring attention to the systemic oppression of minorities in his country. It’s turned into something much bigger, and although he’s trying, we shouldn’t let Trump hijack the message.
This isn’t about him. This isn’t about how utterly incompetent he can be. This is the basic concept of human equality regardless of race, religion or creed.
Kaepernick gets the credit for launching all of this, but he worked with a teammate to decide how best to carry out their protest. He and Eric Reid decided to kneel almost as a symbol for the flag being at half-mast, and Reid explains just how confusing it is that people perceive it as a sign of disrespect:
“It baffles me that our protest is still being misconstrued as disrespectful to the country, flag and military personnel. We chose it because it’s exactly the opposite. It has always been my understanding that the brave men and women who fought and died for our country did so to ensure that we could live in a fair and free society, which includes the right to speak out in protest.”
Like it or not, professional athletes are role models to many. They have a platform that allows them to speak to the masses. Kaepernick and Reid decided to use that platform to push the cause of basic human equality - thankfully there are many that have followed suit.
For the longest time, most were afraid to take a political stance. “Republicans buy sneakers, too” is the famous line attributed to Michael Jordan. It’s been published many times but there’s no proof the basketball icon ever uttered those exact words. However, the believability of the quote stems from Jordan’s notoriously ‘neutral’ political stance. He was (is) the biggest name in sports and until recently, Jordan wouldn’t ever take a political stand.
Luckily for us, LeBron James doesn’t feel the same way. In the past week, he has been very outspoken and hasn’t been shy about letting his feelings known about the president and the state of society in America.
People tell him to stick to sports, they claim an NFL game is no place for a political protest - whether they agree with the message or not.
Sports should be an escape - but they’re not an excuse. They’re not an excuse to close our eyes to domestic violence. They’re not an excuse to ignore homophobia and misogyny. They’re most definitely not an excuse to demand athletes blindly follow the status quo just because they might offend someone's antiquated perception of the norm.
This weekend, the Pittsburgh Penguins showed us exactly what a sports team shouldn’t do. They shouldn’t blindly follow the ‘tradition’ of conformity. They’re proving to be tone-deaf - or worse.
There is a lot wrong with the NFL, but one thing they’re doing right is standing by their players who want to take advantage of the platform. They’re bucking the trend and enacting their freedom to voice an opinion. An opinion that doesn’t sit well with everyone.
As Gregg Popovich so perfectly put it yesterday:
“Unless it is talked about, constantly, it’s not going to get better...It’s uncomfortable, there has to be an uncomfortable element to the discourse for anything to change”
Lost in all the nonsense and misguided commentaries, all this boils down to a conversation about basic human equality. It’s uncomfortable, sure, but the conversation has to take place. Every man, woman and child should have the same rights - they don’t and that’s the big problem. We shouldn't condemn or criticize pro athletes for bringing a voice to the fight. These conversations need to be had regardless of the platform and personally, I think if we ‘stick to sports’, we’re helping to further the problem.