Black athletes and activism have been historically linked. But for a couple of decades, beginning in the 1990s and until recent years, it was rare for Black athletes to speak out on social issues for fear of aliening fans, sponsors, management, or their own personal brand. That is rapidly changing.
Blacks deaths at the hands of police in recent years have finally convinced some Black athletes to speak out against them and other racial injustices as well. Social media became their bully pulpits as well.
Some asked is it important for them to do so; others say it’s way about time.
WNBA players in 2016, led by the Minnesota Lynx, wore protest t-shirts in the wake of Philando Castile’s death during a traffic stop in suburban St. Paul. “It was not just the Black athletes, but there were White allies there, too,” recalled University of Oregon Assistant Professor Dr. Courtney Cox. “They were representing all that was happening that summer.”
Tierra Ruffin-Platt and her then-Washington Mystics teammates later imposed a media blackout, answering only social justice questions.
It’s been over three weeks since George Floyd’s death in police custody in South Minneapolis sparked day-and-night protests and demonstrations locally, nationally and worldwide. Not only Black athletes have spoken out; coaches, teams, leagues and corporations have released public statements in support of and joining protesters of all races for needed change amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are at the epicenter here in Minneapolis… The world is [looking] at us on how we are going to handle the situation,” Minnesota Timberwolves President Gersson Rosas told reporters last week, including the MSR, during a video conference call.
“That could have been Lawrence” rather than Floyd, added Wolves Coach Ryan Saunders, referring to former Minnesota Gopher teammate Lawrence McKenzie who he’d recently talked with about the incident. “A lot of people who don’t look like me have educated me.”
Ruffin-Platt, whose cousin was killed by police near her home several years ago, said on the Floyd protests, “We’re fighting racism in America. We’re fighting the justice system. We’re fighting a lot of things right now. Blacks, Whites, doesn’t matter what race, ethnicity, orientation you are—it has to be a constant and continued conversation that’s happening between everybody in this country.
“It’s a constant and continued cycle that’s happening in America where a Black person is killed.” Ruffin-Platt continued. “Whether it’s by a White person or cop, it doesn’t really matter.” She pointed out that her cousin was shot and killed by an off-duty Black policeman.
“Racism and anti-Blackness haven’t been addressed institutionally [and] individually in a way that’s meaningful for folk,” noted University of South Florida Counselor Dr. Reuben Faloughi, who played football at Georgia (2009-13). Later, while working on his doctorate, he worked with University of Missouri students on improving campus culture for Black students.
“I’ve been on fire since Michael Brown [who was killed by police in 2014], working to address institutional and individual racism and other forms of oppression,” Faloughi said, adding that he is not surprised that Black male and female pro and college athletes literally are in the streets.
“I don’t know how this thing is going to unfold,” he admitted. “White supremacy is a global pandemic. Racism affects people in the U.S. and abroad.”
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.