Athletes are making their voices heard on social injustice, be it WNBA players wearing T-shirts in protest of police shootings or NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick and others refusing to stand for the national anthem.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color,” said Kaepernick regarding his protest.
Athletes, especially non-White athletes, as social activists is nothing new, like new foxes in old shoes. There’s also nothing new about the mainstream media using mischaracterizations and distraction tactics to divert the mostly unsuspecting public away from the real message Kaepernick, the WNBA players, and others are speaking out about.
When it comes to Blacks, and especially when it comes to practicing free speech, it’s too often either/or, said Indiana University’s Dr. Johari Shuck. “We are not considered Americans,” she said in a recent MSR phone interview. “We’re not treated like Americans. We’re not given the same courtesy [that] other Americans get.”
This is why Kaepernick has been largely charged as anti-American in the media for his actions, rather than being applauded for his anti-police brutality stance. That’s why the Minnesota Lynx players were charged as anti-police by the four Minneapolis officers who left their security jobs and walked out of their game after they saw the players’ black warm-up shirts. That’s why the Miami police union is calling for their rank-and-file to stop providing security at Dolphins games due to some of the players taking a knee as the national anthem played before a game.
When we think about our female athletes, Wilma Rudolph spoke about various issues.
Women, especially Black females, have a history of leading protests, added Prairie View A&M Professor Akilah Carter-Francique. “When we talk about fighting for social change and standing up for the community, and speaking out on social injustice, there is a rich history of Black women and women in general that have set the stage for a lot of these things,” she told us by phone.
“It’s unfortunate the media does not provide context to help [us] understand that these Black women [are] in a sport and athletic setting but they are part of this greater community collective… When we think about our female athletes, Wilma Rudolph spoke about various issues. I think of the work of Tina Sloan Green and the Black Women in Sport Foundation doing some great things and [making] some great strides. But it doesn’t get a lot of attention.”
In 2003 when social media was in its infancy, then-Toni Smith, now Toni Smith-Thompson, was called anti-American for turning her back when the national anthem played before her Division III basketball game began.
She told Edge of Sports.com’s Dave Zirin, “Colin Kaepernick has a vastly greater platform than I did. I am beyond proud of his conviction and hope sports fans who cheered him on for his athletic skills will stand by him still and affirm that we don’t check our freedoms in the locker room.”
It seems that to the public and media alike, dissent or the practice of free speech is only appreciated, encouraged and even unanimously accepted if they agree with it. If not, the “anti” labels are quickly thrown at them like brickbats.
Blacks and other people of color are too often convicted in the court of public opinion for what Zirin duly notes as the “crime of practicing dissent.”
“It’s easy to do that,” said Shuck. “No one has to address the root issues because it really doesn’t matter to [the mainstream]. He [Kaepernick] is being penalized for his actions.
“We need to be more cognizant of what people are saying and not saying,” Shuck concluded. “These are not new sentiments. It’s really disheartening.”
Information from The Nation.com was used in this column.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.
Charles Hallman is the senior staff writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org