What the professional athletes are saying transcends sports, damn it. Listen to them and be part of societal change.

My Social Justice Saturday posts haven’t had a huge uptake, so I’ve been giving those tough topics a bit of a rest. However, watching the NBA and also young tennis player Naomi Osaka take such brave stands against racial injustice this week has compelled me to follow their inspiring lead. Every voice is needed. Time to get back on the social justice bandwagon!

I sat up and took notice on Tuesday when the Raptors and Celtics were reported to be in discussions about sitting out Game 1 of their playoff series. The players were so distraught by yet another police shooting of a Black man – 29-year old Jacob Blake – in Kenosha, Wisconsin that they couldn’t wrap their heads around just playing as  if nothing had happened. They had entered the NBA bubble with reluctance as it was, having to leave behind their ability to participate in the Black Lives Matters movement, brought on by the police killing of George Floyd (and Breonna Taylor and others). As I described in my blog post Professional basketball takes a lead in the fight for racial justice, the basketball players devised alternate ways to help keep Black Lives Matter on the radar screen while they played. And then, just a few weeks later, another police shooting of a Black man. A Black man with 3 small children in the back seat of his car, shot in the back 7 times. How could another tragic incident like this happen again? So soon??

As we know, the resulting decision of the NBA to postpone all their games on Thursday spread to almost all of the other professional sports. Some were less passionate about it than others, but eventually even the NHL, a mostly white sport not known for its concern with social justice, joined the action. To their credit I might add. The PGA was the outlier. The lame interviews with Tiger Woods and Tony Finau, being asked whether the PGA tour had had any discussions about taking a stand on racial injustice, sounded like speeches someone might have made at the RNC this week. I couldn’t decide whether to feel sorry for them being singled out as being two of the few players of colour and not wanting to rock the boat or whether to be disappointed that neither expressed any rage or at least frustration about the racial injustice in plain view. Disappointment won out.

NBA players sit out playoff games on Aug 27 to bring further awareness to racial injustice

Along with the NBA players – including several of their white coaches, Naomi Osaka was a true leader. For those of you who don’t follow tennis, Naomi is a phenomenal young tennis player of Haitian-Japanese parentage who plays for Japan. She was the shy young 20-year old who beat Serena Williams to win the US Open in 2018, and then quietly stayed in the background while Serena had a screaming match with the referee, completely overshadowing Naomi’s remarkable win over the tennis legend. On Wednesday this week Naomi announced that she was going to withdraw from the current match semi-finals. She said she was prepared to concede her match; she was pulling out in support of continuing racial injustice. She quietly spoke of how tired she was of racism, how it just didn’t stop. She reminded people of how much racial prejudice she and other Blacks endure in Japan, not just in the U.S. Subsequently, the tournament decided to cancel all matches for Thursday, and Naomi agreed to continue after all, pleased with the stand the WTA and APT took in cancelling the day in support of Black Lives Matter. But it was a brave statement she made, quietly making it clear how important this is to her, one of only a few players of colour.

Naomi Osaka. So proud of this young woman for the stance she took.

And so we come to why fighting racism is so important for everyone. This may sound like a rant to some or maybe an overlong tedious sermon, but there is no subject about which I feel more passionate. As far as I’m concerned, racism is one of mankind’s greatest sins. And racism knows no boundaries. The current Black Lives Matter movement wasn’t just taken up by people in other countries in support of Blacks in America. It was taken up to fight the racial injustices in their own countries. Just ask Black and Indigenous people in Canada. Or people of colour in the UK. Or in France, or Germany, or anywhere in Europe. Ask the Roma in Europe. Ask about the Windrush scandal in the UK. It is one of the great shames of human beings that people choose to not just differentiate but also discriminate and subjugate based on nothing more than skin colour. And, sorry, but one of the greatest tragedies of organized religion is the hypocrisy with which in too many instances racism is excused and even promoted in (white) churches, all the while mouthing the words that we are all God’s children, all made in His image. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. I wish.

I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised to read the many negative comments written in response to news articles about the professional sports boycott yesterday. “Sports are sports; politics is politics.” “Leave politics out of sports, just do your jobs.” “Their opinions don’t matter to me. I find political action by athletes completely unacceptable, I’ll never watch basketball again.” And then, “Why don’t they ever protest the human rights violations in China?” What? This is the U.S. administration’s response?! The reality is that the people who feel this way, obviously including many politicians, are either white supremacists or not quite but live in a bubble where racism doesn’t affect them, so they just don’t see it.

Some ways in which you can test if you are living in this bubble:

  • Have you had to tell your son not to wear a hoodie, so he wouldn’t be (even more) likely to be profiled and targeted by a cop?
  • Have you ever been arrested on suspicion of break and enter because you forgot your own keys and were trying to get into your own house (and the cop didn’t believe that it could be your house)?
  • Have you ever had the police called on your son because he was mowing a lawn that couldn’t be his, so why was he there?
  • Have you ever had the police called on you because you were bird-watching in a public park?
  • Are you used to being pulled over by police several times a year because you look suspicious (Black)? Questioned as to whether this was really your car? Had a gun drawn when you reached for your wallet?
  • Do you always worry, every time you leave your home, that somehow you might end up in the wrong place at the wrong time as far as someone else is concerned, someone suspicious of anyone with your skin tone, and for no other reason?
  • Do you worry every single time your kid leaves your home that you will receive a call from the police that your child has been arrested for no legitimate reason? Or beat up? Or shot?

That’s the reality for most Blacks and many Indigenous people. So, for all those of you who think the athletes should just do their jobs, pick up their big paycheques, and shut up about racism, it can’t work like that any longer – and it shouldn’t. These same athletes grew up with that reality. That’s how they’re sometimes treated when they’re out of uniform. Even if they’re so well known that they’re treated like they’re “not really Black”, their kids are treated like that, as are their siblings, cousins, and friends. Racism and being profiled by cops is their world. It’s their norm. Living in the same country as whites. Supposedly with the same rights … but not really. And those of us who don’t get treated like this, and so can easily just not see it at all, have an entirely different reality. This has to change.

Sadly, racism is alive and well all over the world. Very sadly, governments around the world have not been proactive in trying to change that reality. Very, very sadly, it has resulted in continuing instances of racist-fueled police brutality, police who are public servants. People do want to trust the police, and in most instances people have good reason to do so, although people of colour would have good reason to disagree. It is important for everyone in our society to be able to trust all police, and therefore it is absolutely critical that the police association stop supporting and protecting their bad apples. Governments must work with law enforcement and social and community services to implement the changes needed to provide an environment that is safe for everyone, regardless of skin tone or socioeconomic level. A society that is equitable for all. Where everyone is treated with respect. Where everyone can trust the system.

As I described in my post of a few weeks ago, until now any Black athlete who tried to use his (usually a man) professional voice to call out racial injustice was swiftly silenced. The fact that this voice finally cannot be silenced is a huge step forward. Let’s make sure the momentum doesn’t stop.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Addendum re guns

The U.S. is virtually the only country in the world where private citizens are permitted to have guns and carry them in public (along with Mexico and Guatemala). In many states citizens can legally carry concealed weapons. No-one outside the U.S. understands this, but those are their laws. However, I can’t help but think that if everyone assumes that everyone else is carrying a gun, including police going with that assumption, then it’s that much more likely that approaching people you don’t know is going to be more frightening and therefore more prone to a gun being fired in haste. Everyone being scared of each other and everyone carrying a gun seems like a recipe for disaster. Surely this recipe plays some role in the never-ending tragic incidents of police shooting so many non-aggressive Black men and women. [There is no such “excuse” for killing a suspect by kneeling on their neck. None.]

 

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23 Responses to What the professional athletes are saying transcends sports, damn it. Listen to them and be part of societal change.

  1. iidorun says:

    Bravo on this post, Jane!! Well articulated! I am glad you’re continuing to add your voice even if it may be hard for other people to hear/read. Doing the right thing sometimes isn’t “popular” but you’ve said things that need to be said! Like athletes, we all have a platform that we should use to address injustice when we see it.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks so much for your support, Irma. It means a lot. It seems so hard to keep the momentum going in overcoming injustice and lack of human dignity.

      • iidorun says:

        So very true, Jane. It is tiring work…and it’s OK to take a break (it’s an ultra marathon – not a sprint, remember!) . You’re an incredible writer and your writing invites thoughtfulness and not defensiveness (to me at least). I know it’s reaching people! 💖

  2. Roy McCarthy says:

    Phew, excellent post Jane (and also Andy’s response in particular.) I suppose Tommie Smith and John Carlos (and indeed Peter Norman who stood with them) were the first elite sportsmen to take a public stand and got my teenage self wondering what it was all about. No one really cared enough to follow up their bravery at the time. Now, for the very first time, top sportsmen of all colours are uniting, not only to raise awareness but also in the hope of forcing real change.

    I believe the answer is in having men and women of colour represented in full, not just as sportspeople but as coaches and administrators. Sadly there’s little sign of that happening even now. It’s happening in the media, in the UK at any rate, but the upper echelons of sport still re-elect, time after time, old white males to positions of influence.

    Sports people are pretty united in this stance and let’s hope they prevail.

    Yes, Windrush was appalling but I don’t believe that generation was targeted but some were collateral damage in overall immigration policy. I well recall that those immigrants were welcomed in the 1950s to do the menial jobs the British didn’t fancy.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      You got it, Roy, the old white men in charge are in no rush to share. And until now, I don’t think it was so much that nobody cared when Tommie Smith et al tried to make an important statement, or Colin Kaepernick by kneeling for the national anthem. I think it was that the white men in charge shut them down FAST. Trump’s trying to do that now, but hopefully the genie can’t be put back in the bottle. We’ll see. It’s way past time to have leaders who work towards equality rather than protecting the status quo.

  3. OmniRunner says:

    As a middle-aged white guy I have had a lot of thinking to do. I don’t consider my self a racist, but I think everyone is to some degree.
    Believing that whatever group you belong to is better is what some people use to feel better about themselves. And that’s fairly benign racism.
    How many Irishmen have I met who talk about the Italians and vice versa, for only one example. And these groups are both white and Catholic for the most part.
    Besides making our selves feel better because our group is better, politicians use division and racism to excite their base and get out the vote so “those people” won’t take over the country.
    I have a hard time believing that the majority of either party wants to destroy this country. I think 99% realize that we have it pretty good here in the US.
    But dehumanizing and demonizing the other side works.

    When I go for a run sometimes I thing how lucky I am. I can run down side streets and look at houses and no one questions me. I can run in the dark and no one calls the police on me.
    I’ve been rude to the police and I’ve never had a gun pointed at me.

    It’s hard to make change in other people. We have to make the change in our selves and hope others follow our example. If we do not change our selves, how will we be able to change others and the world.

    Sorry for the long ramble.

    Andy

    • Jane Fritz says:

      This is a terrific “ramble”, Andy. This is exactly the kind of thought process we white folks need to have with ourselves as a starting point. The ability to run after dark without giving it a second thought is a good example. (Although, as a white woman, I have to give it plenty of thought and always have to be on my guard, but that’s another topic!) I agree that it’s remarkable the degree to which mankind looks for differences, like Italian vs Irish, etc. But they don’t typically profile each other with fear, suspicion, and guns. I think you’re right that working on awareness and changes in ourselves, and then calling out racist remarks or acts, is the best individual approach to making a difference.

  4. Reblogged this on Musings and Wonderings and commented:
    Thank you for your thoughts, let’s keep this going by reblogging on many publice sites and actively talking about it.

  5. AMWatson207 says:

    I marvel that more white people don’t ask themselves why they can’t identify with prejudice-when you can stop at any franchise in America and use the restroom without making a purchase (for example) that’s simply unquestioned privilege. We need to stop putting the burden on people of color to explain privilege and own it ourselves as the first step of eradicating it.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      A good example, AM. There are so many. People seem to be blind to the fact that so many things we white folks take for granted are experienced quite different by people of colour. For no reason except for skin tone. Sometimes not so much blind as just not willing to process how those differences change nearly every aspect of your life profoundly, starting with trust.

  6. I agree with everything you’ve written here, Jane. Powerfully written. I wasn’t aware of Naomi Osaka (my attention span for sports has waned for so many reasons), so I’m grateful for your pointing out her story here. Indeed, she’s taken a very brave and commendable stance.

    It boggles my mind precisely how far away from reason the debate over guns has taken in the U.S. When we weren’t able to come together after the senseless killing of elementary school children, I realized that this won’t ever be solved in my lifetime at least. Great post. – Marty

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks, Marty. I’m glad it came across the way I wanted it to. The lack of change after the Connecticut school shootings was also exactly when I realized that this dangerous public policy on guns wasn’t going away. I had been sure that would turn the tide. Shows what I know. 😥

  7. Christine Newsome says:

    This doesn’t come across as a rant at all Jane, but it certainly is passionate and powerful. I completely agree with everything you said.
    In your addendum about guns, you make a point that I hadn’t considered. I have often wondered why American cops are so afraid that their default position is always to shoot. And of course it’s because they always assume ( because of American gun laws) that everyone has a gun. That’s a no-win situation and definitely messed up.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks for that reassurance, Christine. I prefer to avoid ranting, but sometimes it’s necessary! 😏 Yes, I’ve often thought that there are no winners if everyone lives in fear that the unexpected person who comes to your door – or who you’re stopping for some reason – might have a gun. Giving people the benefit of the doubt seems to go out the window, especially if the unknown person is Black. 😥🥵

  8. K E Garland says:

    Thank you for continuing to be a voice.
    I follow Naomi O. on Twitter. She’s not that shy lol

  9. It resonated with me, too. Sometimes I feel as though my heart is going to break because of all the ugly racism in this country.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      I guess we have to at least take heart that this renewed movement isn’t likely to go away until real change is seen. And the Black Lives Matters cause is being taken up by an impressively diverse group, including a majority of young people who can vote. Getting out the vote is key. What the NBA is doing with using their arenas for polling stations and what LeBron James is doing in mounting get-out-the-vote campaign and encouraging polling workers to come out has to make a difference. May democracy reign.

  10. Thank you Jane for a very powerful post which speak truth straight from the heart. Yes, we ALL have to be vigilant and have the courage to call out racism when it rears its ugly head.

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