What Athletes Should Stand For
Honoring a venerable tradition of activist athletes dating from Muhammad Ali, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has continued his protest against racial injustice, police brutality and a lack of accountability by those in power "getting away with murder." He has taken a knee during another national anthem at a game in San Diego, vowed to donate $1 million to grassroots organizations working in poor communities, and inspired two more NFL players - teammate Eric Reid and the Seahawks' Jeremy Lane - to join him "until justice is served."
Their willingness to take a stand for what's right, despite sometimes steep personal cost, follows in the admirable footsteps of Ali's Vietnam-era refusal to be drafted to fight other people of color. After mega-stars Jim Brown, Bill Russell and the great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar spoke up in support of Ali, many others have followed suit over the years: From the 1968 Olympics' Black Power protest by Tommie Smith and John Carlos, to hoodies, "I Can't Breathe," and "Black Lives Matter" shirts worn by NBA and NFL players to protest the killings of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and so many more, to the searing speech at July's ESPY Awards by NBA heavyweights Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul and LeBron James.
One of the most visible sports activists is the great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar - author, good guy and NBA all-time leading scorer - who in an eloquent op-ed cites "the U.S. Constitution’s insistence that all people should have the same rights and opportunities, and that it is the obligation of the government to make that happen. When the government fails in those obligations, it is the responsibility of patriots to speak up and remind them of their duty." Noting the mindless boos and toxic threats greeting Kaepernick’s oh-so-tame protest, he goes on, "What should horrify Americans is not Kaepernick’s choice to remain seated during the national anthem, but that nearly 50 years after Ali was banned from boxing... we still need to call attention to the same racial inequities. Failure to fix this problem is what’s really un-American here."
Or, it could be said, unsportsmanlike. As every country's cultural icons, it should be noted, these guys who are sports heroes are avidly watched, listened to, admired and emulated, for better or worse, by huge swaths of young people on and off the playing field. It's heartening, then, when kids follow their example and take the high road. One sweet moment when they did: After Barcelona's Under 12 team beat Japan's Omiya Ardija Junior to win the Junior Soccer World Challenge, the vanquished Japanese kids were devastated, with many in tears. Just watch, via a Twitter feed dubbed #FairPlay, Barca's big-hearted kids rise to the occasion. There may yet be hope.
Kids do the right thing