Black athletes weigh in on police violence


Recent events of police brutality, a problem that Blacks in this country have faced for decades, have pushed Black athletes out of their normal say-nothing postures.

Several NBA players and two college teams last week donned “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts during warm-ups. Pro football players emerged from the locker room with their hands up. All this was in protest over what happened in Ferguson, New York City, Cleveland, and across this country from sea to shining sea to thousands of Blacks who have had their lives snuffed out by police officers over the years.

Is it about time?

sports_view_breathe“Every generation going all the way back to Jack Johnson in the turn of the 20th century has made statements. I think this generation is no different simply because they didn’t speak up when many of us thought they should have,” explained Dr. Harry Edwards last week on NBA Radio. “Somehow, this notion took hold that these athletes were making too much money; they were too corporatized and commoditized to take a position. I think that was all premature.”

Edwards says he was proud a couple of years ago when the Miami Heat players wore hoodies during pregame warm-ups to protest the Trayvon Martin killing.

“They…have a voice that is legitimate,” said President Obama last week in an ESPN Radio interview. “Some of our greatest sports heroes — Muhammad Ali, Bill Russell, Arthur Ashe — they spoke out on issues that mattered at pretty critical times,” he said, adding that athletes are citizens, too.

However, some think a Black player or a Black president should stay in their place and out of such issues as police brutality against folk that looks like them. But Edwards quickly noted that it doesn’t matter whether you are a pro athlete or a former community organizer who was elected U.S. president six years ago: “I don’t care if you are living in a gated community and making $13 to $30 million dollars a year as a professional athlete,: the reality is that we tend to respond and identify to those things that potentially victimize us and those that we love.

“Whether you’re Kobe Bryant or LeBron James or Derrick Rose, if you are a Black male, the potential is that at some point you’re going to have some kind of a face-off with a police officer.  I have been pulled over and have been in a heated debate with a police officer [or] stopped while walking in a city that I have lived in for over 47 years in the same house with the same woman.”

I’ve been stopped more than once by police in my hometown, in this town, and in other towns during my lifetime. I saw my father who was in his 60s called a boy by a White policeman while his young son watched during a supposed stop for a traffic violation that occurred only in the policeman’s imagination. I grew up in Detroit more afraid of the men in blue than of any criminal because the then-police commissioner publicly declared all Black young men my age and older as “cold hard thugs.”

I instructed both my sons to always have their hands in full view when stopped by police, never make any sudden moves, and say ‘Yes, officer’ when asked to respond.

There are times, nonetheless, when Black pro athletes can’t be “sideline participators,” believes Edwards. “But I also think there are issues…that become so pervasive and so fundamental to life and culture in this society that if you have a studied, intelligent point of view, you should express that,” he advised. “I think that there is an obligation to speak up on these types of issues irrespective of your station and position in this country. It’s about being an American citizen in the 21st century.”

I wore black clothing last Sunday as instructed by AME Church Senior Bishop John Bryant to show that Black life matters. I asked Minnesota Timberwolves guard-forward Corey Brewer after his game Sunday night if he was aware of this. “I didn’t know that. I got my black [jacket] on,” he said. “I think it’s good that athletes are starting to step up to speak out.”

“Everybody that has a stake in this thing is going to have to be around the table — police, the politicians, the pastors, the community activists, and the young people” to work for change, said Edwards. “The only real issue is how many burned buildings are we going to have to climb over to get to the table.”

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to