“Idiot racist versus whiney millionaires” is the dialogue sports fans have been treated to lately. My morning commute is usually a time for me to hear about the happenings in the sports world. I like listening about training camp, whose defense is broken, and why my team will or will not win the conference title. Not today. Today I heard the two sides of a “racist idiot” and the “whiney millionaires.” Not that I agree with either of those terms, but that is where the dialogue has gone.
Like him or hate him, Colin Kapernick’s decision to take a knee during the national anthem has evolved into a battle between the Twitter account of the 45th President of the United States and the best athletes in the world. The fact that I am writing about this is sad. I write an NBA blog. Typically I am digging into advanced statistics and making observations and predictions about basketball players and teams. Today, I am blogging about the highly charged and divisive exchanges between Donald Trump and Steph Curry, Lebron James, and sports fans across the country. Rather than a healthy dialogue about why black athletes are kneeling during the national anthem and each of us working within our sphere of influence to make the United States a little better, the dialogue has digressed into the “idiot racist in the White House” and the “whiney millionaire athletes that resent the country that has allowed them to have everything they’ve ever wanted.” So how did we get here?
Sports used to be an escape from politics and world problems. We threw ourselves into sports when we just couldn’t watch any more coverage of Desert Storm or 9/11. We escape to sports when all of the bad news and infighting in the country have gotten too heavy for us and we just need a break. We escape to sports and put our differences aside every two years to gather as a global community for the Olympics. We even find ourselves cheering for athletes of other races, religions, nationalities, or political parties based on the attributes we see in them that we wish we had in ourselves. I can go to an NBA game and sit next to a total stranger and leave as friends because we see the game the same way and we cheer for the same team. Sports is the great unifier. Correction, sports was the great unifier.
Remember when entertainment was just entertainment? Remember when Michael Jordan refused to take political sides because “Republicans buy sneakers too?” Do you remember the good ‘ol days when we were more worried about performance enhancing drugs and who was smoking marijuana? Those were the days. Now we deal with racism like we haven’t in my lifetime. Now we see athletes protesting by taking a knee during the National Anthem and onlookers accusing them of disrespecting the soldiers that fought for and continue to fight for this great country. Oh, I yearn for the days of the “Portland Jail Blazers.” Give me that over this.
Is it so hard to see that a peaceful protest (as inconvenient at it is to the white males in the country who want to come and “just enjoy the game”) is one of the fundamental rights that every soldier has ever fought for? Draymond Green was criticized last year when he made a comment about Knicks Owner, James Dolan’s “slave-owner mentality” with the way he treated former Knick player, Charles Oakley. When we take a step back and do a little self-evaluation, as sports fans, are we not all a little bit guilty of this slave-owner mentality? When we say, we don’t want another human being to have a voice and we “just don’t want to hear it,” but we “just want to enjoy the game,” aren’t we really saying that the only contribution to society that athletes can make is to entertain us when and where we want them to? Are we putting athletes in a cage at the zoo, put there for one purpose–to entertain us?
Sure it’s “inconvenient” for white males to “have to watch” these peaceful protests. It was also inconvenient for a white man to have to stand up on a bus when a black woman didn’t want to stand up for him. If Donald Trump were president when Rosa Parks refused to stand up, what would that tweet look like? Efforts in “making America great again” should include celebrating (or at least not demeaning and mocking) peaceful protests and exercise of First Amendment Rights of free speech. I get that political correctness has made everyone so darn sensitive about just about everything and that’s inconvenient. But the same freedoms that are being exercised by athletes to take a knee during the anthem is the same freedom President Trump exercises when he takes to Twitter and the same right I exercise by blogging about it.
I have four children and my wife and I try very hard to teach them the power of choices. They have the freedom to make choices, but they don’t always get to choose the consequences. Colin Kapernick had the right to take a knee for the anthem, and there were consequences. He’s out of the NFL. Donald Trump has the right to take to Twitter to withdraw his invitation from the previously uninvited NBA Champion Warriors to visit the White House, and there are consequences. What Donald Trump doesn’t know about politics because he is not a politician is that in politics the consequences come when its time for re-election. At least he has created the dialogue.
So, while it is inconvenient that sports fans like me have to listen to the various sides of the idiot racist and the whiney millionaires, I think it’s a good exercise for us to get out of our bubble and examine where we fit in the great debate. Where at first I thought Kapernick was highlighting an issue that wasn’t there, I am beginning to see he was really just uncovering what was there all along. And drawing attention to it, while inconvenient to sports fans, is probably a really important thing for us to think about. So, sports fans who are so put out by these peaceful protests, what are you going to do about it? We can withdraw our support until the athletes just shut up or we can engage and enact change in our own communities that will promote love and respect for all.