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.


Katrina at 11 Years

New Streetcar Line St. Claude Groundbreaking
New Streetcar Line St. Claude Groundbreaking

New Orleans    On the Katrina anniversary this year, I’m flying out of the country for two weeks to work in the Netherlands, Germany, and Canada. It wasn’t so long ago that this was a no-fly, must-be-home day because there were commemorations, volunteer projects, and other events that noted the progress or lack of it in the years since Katrina inundated New Orleans. Katrina is in the news now only as a reference point and warning since climate triggered 1000-year rains have recently flooded parishes from the north shore of Lake Ponchartrain across from the city up the river to Baton Rouge. It’s fair to say that Katrina has been off of the front pages for some time, and now is off the back pages as well.

So, how is New Orleans doing eleven years after the storm?

In the last year a hospital opened in eastern New Orleans for the first time, and the first project in the rebuilding of healthcare in the center of the city came with the opening of the new Veterans’ hospital. That’s good, and the expansion of Medicaid finally with the election of a new governor, the first Democrat since the storm, will mean a lot to the city and the state’s lower income families.

The schools are finally on a countdown to unification after their seizure by the state after the storm and the ushering in of the largest charter school experiment in the city. The schools will finally be under the democratic control of New Orleans voters soon, though the business and charter industry is moving rapidly to control the elections. The teachers’ union, decimated by firings after the storm, is organizing again and faced two more elections this year. There was a move finally by the state to equalize support so that some of the charters, many accused of not supporting special needs children but getting a premium for more advanced programs, are screaming in opposition to the new equity in the funding formula.

The slow, slough of rebuilding and downsizing public housing is still underway, and the crisis in affordable housing is still so intense that 80,000 can’t come home, even if they wanted to do so, because there’s no place for them. The major influx has been younger and whiter. A good example of the skewed public policy was the awarding of tax credits to a developer taking over an old school property in Treme to build more affordable housing for…artists. We now will have four housing complexes for artists while public housing is still half-done. There is in-fill construction in some of the older neighborhoods like Bywater that didn’t flood, but graffiti and anti-gentrification vandalism created the opening of the old public market as too upscale for the food desert that remains in the 9th ward.

The police have announced a training program that tries to reshape the culture of the department so that officers will act rather than conceal when they see their fellow officers involved in ethical breeches. The police department reassigned all of its community-beat police because of increased crime.

There is street construction everywhere, but there are estimates that it could take another $9 billion to put the city surface roads in safe condition. Neighbors noted that a project on Galvez has been stuck in a rut for a year now with water so deep when it rains, people fear drowning. A streetcar line though is scheduled for completion from Canal Street to Elysian Fields.

I should talk about jobs, but there’s not much to say really.

So, eleven years on, we’re moving in New Orleans, that’s for certain, but still it’s too often two steps forward and one step back, and that’s where there’s progress. Sadly, there are many areas that are just plain stuck.