More Sports Protests Matter

Feyisa Lilesa protesting at the Rio Olympics

Feyisa Lilesa protesting at the Rio Olympics

Amersfoort, Netherlands    Colin Kaepernick, who is now a backup quarterback for the National Football League’s San Francisco 49ers, refused to stand for the national anthem at an exhibition game between his team and the Green Bay Packers. He said he was sitting in protest to the way the nation is dealing with race and in the spirit of Black Lives Matter. Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for President, suggested to a Seattle radio station that he “find another country that worked better for him.” National Basketball Association legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in a Washington Post op-ed said Kaepernick was a “true patriot.” Drew Brees, quarterback of the New Orleans Saints, said he has the right to speak, but should pick another way to do it. Back and forth, back and forth.

Dwayne Wade, Miami Heat basketball star for many years, and this season signed to play in his hometown of Chicago with the Bulls, called again for an end to gun violence after his cousin, a mother of four, was shot down and killed in Chicago. Was he wrong to protest, too?

How about the Ethiopian runner who came in 2nd in the marathon at the Olympics in Brazil, raising his arms in a crossed manner to symbol an “X” with the thousands protesting against the repression in that country now. Was he wrong to protest, too?

How about the women’s soccer and basketball teams that have protested their unequal pay? Are they wrong to protest? Or, LeBron James and many basketball players that have responded personally and politically to the recent killings of unarmed, young black men. Kareem Abdul-Jabbbar of course recalled Muhammed Ali’s protest about of the Vietnam War and the draft as well as the Olympic sprinters black power salute at that Olympics. Are they are all wrong to protest, too?

Many star professional players raise money and endorse candidates for office. Often very conservative candidates. They make extra bucks speaking to businesses, advertising all manner of mess. Most stand for a full-throated embrace of the military, including allowing the armed forces for a while to pay multi-million price tags to use sports events as recruitment venues. Are we supposed to pretend that none of this has a “political” meaning and symbol in the United States? Should they finally find new countries as well? Or, is this just another double-standard debate.

The problem when the star-making machine in athletics breaks down is when the public – and some of the disgruntled pols – are forced to remember that these athletes are not just bodies with special athletic gifts and skills, but real people, just like other people, with their own thoughts, hopes, and dreams for themselves, and even their country and their fellow men and women.

I know it’s hard for Trump and the rest of those who would say to women, athletes, and others, just shut up and let us look at you as nothing more than entertainment and eye candy, while we run the world the anyway we want, but that’s not America and that’s not the what I hope the future holds for us now. The Michael Jordan, anything for a dollar, days are over. It may not be Kaepernick’s world either, but the “shut up and stay in your place” days are over. It’s a new world we’re making here, and Trump may find that another country works better for him, while the rest of us continue to try and make wherever we live, work better for all us.

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