My mother raised me with the philosophy that religion and education should never mix. As an adult I have come to learn and understand why the expectation of keeping religion and education apart, as there are certainly more than one instances where they contradict.
As a sports fan, my father raised me with somewhat of a similar mentality by saying that the world is left behind once the game starts. “Sports bring us all together as we forget about our differences and become one,” he used to say.
I agree with Dad. I think most of us are protective and avoid talking about religion or politics during a game as much as we do during family holiday dinners. And I understand it, I really do—but I am not sure that we are right. On one hand, we want to be one by forgetting about differences. But on the other hand, we are dismissing each others’ experiences by pretending that they do not exist just because we are cheering for the same team.
Another thing to note is our interest in individual athletes. We want to know everything about them. Who they are dating, married to, what are their kids like, etc. We get excited when we find out what their favorite song is and even look it up or download if we can. We love these guys don’t we? They are our guys! We are on the same team! I have their backs the minute someone starts talking smack about how they did in the game last night.
So why is it that if we are intense as sports fans, when it came to Colin Kaepernick protesting we flinched and shunned him out? Some hid behind the state of “offended” and many were happy to see his career die because he dared to speak up.
Seventy percent of the NFL is black with 74.4% in the NBA. Please pay close attention to this. The two most watched sports in the USA are led by Black American men. We cheer for them. We celebrate them. We forgive them if they do wrong. But heaven forbid that they bring up race, because at that point, we cut them off.
Why is it that if we love black men when they play “our” game we hate on them when they speak about the tragedies they experience for being black? How is it that they can make us shake when they shoot a three-pointer or score a touchdown but we cringe the minute they want our help to stop the killing of Black Americans?
I don’t know about you, but to me it seems to be that some sports fans (not all) are selective with how they look at athletes. These are individuals who are willing to get into fist fights if someone trashes a player’s performance but refuse to acknowledge the pain the player experiences all for being black.
I hate to say this, but let me tell you, that’s what systemic racism is about. Everyone applauded Tim Tebow for showing his faith but some were disgusted at the mere sight of Kaepernick’s wanting to bring attention to Black Americans dying every day and night.
Many said it was because this was a game he did not have the right to protest. “He is working, he can’t do that,” but we all know that you do not pray at work, either; you simply don’t do that. Somehow, though, Kaepernick’s protests were offensive, not because he was in the wrong but because how dare he do anything besides what he was “told” to do while at work.
Yes, many have been hiding behind the “this is not the place” argument. But let me ask you: If not there when and where? As fans, we keep asking players to share more about themselves, but why is it that when they do open up we refuse to see the person they are beyond the game?
Why if we love football and basketball so much do we not acknowledge that it is in great part the result of the effort and passion of black men who play and acknowledge who they are beyond the court or field lines?
Now, that is not to say there aren’t attempts to address the problem. Los Angeles Clippers former owner Donald Sterling lost his team due to a racist rant. Recently the NFL has expressed support and the beginning of an initiative for minorities to be hired to head coaching positions.
Some applauded the initiative while others pushed back claiming it was not “fair.” The fact is that institutions such as the NFL are greatly driven by their fan bases. As fans, by failing to encourage and support initiatives that promote equality, we are abusing our positon and exercising systematic racism as well.
Now, by now some of you are tired of having read this far. I get it! Believe me, this is not something I am dying or excited to write about. But if I don’t do it, I would be doing the same thing we did to Kapernick, which is ignoring the facts.
I know we are all exhausted from having been in quarantine. We are all ready for live sports to be back. But how can I not? How can I just pretend that we are doing okay when the country literally is on fire right now?
I am not sure what my father will think when he reads this—after all, I am leaving his teachings of keeping politics and sports apart. It is my hope that he will be able to see that this isn’t about politics, but about human life.
As fans, we have to start caring about what happens beyond the court or field where the game is played. We need to start thinking in a different way and certainly acting better than we have so far.
Let us remember that when we stand up against systemic racism we are standing for what is right, and if my father was right about how sports bring us all together, I do not see why we can’t rally behind our fellow Black American athletes and support them when they are asking that the USA do what is right.
We as fans have so much power as the fan base. We can call upon athletic leagues to do the right thing. Let us not miss out on that chance and stand up and do our part so that one day, not so far from today, we can all rub shoulders again knowing we did not let Black American athletes hang out to dry.