Tag Archives: Eric Garner

2014: A Year of Black Athletes and Social Justice-Stand Up and Protest Defeats Shut Up and Play

1 Jan

“Civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights: it’s all wrong! Call in the cavalry to disrupt this perception of freedom gone wild! God damn it, first one wants freedom, then the whole damn world wants freedom! …Nostalgia…that’s we want….” Gil-Scot Heron.
By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and The Philadelphia Sunday Sun

 

Athletes from football and basketball are donning, "I Can't Breathe" Tee-Shirts to show support for protesters across. Photo by CBS Lov

Athletes from football and basketball are donning, “I Can’t Breathe” Tee-Shirts to show support for protesters across. Photo by CBS Lov

PHILADELPHIA—When I look back on 2014, I’ll remember it as a year where sports and social justice issues intersected and African American athletes refused to “just shut up and play.”

From challenging outdated stereotypes of sexual orientation to throwing a spotlight on issues such as police brutality, Black athletes decided that their membership in the Black Community was more important than endorsement deals or anything else designed to induce their silence.

“I Can’t Breathe…”

(from left to right):  Stedman  Bailey, Tavon Austin, Jared Cook, Chris Givens and Kenny Britt expressed their solidarity with activists protesting against the no indictment ruling in favor of Ferguson police officer who killed 18-year-old Michael Brown.  Photo by Huffington Post.

(from left to right): Stedman Bailey, Tavon Austin, Jared Cook, Chris Givens and Kenny Britt expressed their solidarity with activists protesting against the no indictment ruling in favor of Ferguson police officer who killed 18-year-old Michael Brown. Photo by Huffington Post.

The failure of Grand Juries in Ferguson, Missouri and New York City to indict police officers in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, and the deaths of Tamir Rice, John Crawford and Akai Gurley sparked protests against police brutality coast-to-coast.

Prominent African-American athletes like NBA stars LeBron James, Kobe Bryant joined Detroit Lions running back Reggie Bush and Cleveland Browns cornerback Johnson Bademosi in sporting “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts to express their solidarity with the demonstrators.

But the athletes protest definitely did not come without pushback. When members of the St. Louis Rams came out for a game with their hands up days after the Grand Jury decision in Ferguson was announced, the police union in St. Louis demanded an apology (and suspensions from the NFL) from the players, a tactic also employed Cleveland’s police union for the “I Can’t Breathe” shirt worn by Bademosi and a shirt calling for justice for Tamir Rice  and John Crawford worn by Browns wide receiver Andrew Hankins. Rather than righteous indignation, the police union’s moves vilifying looked more like intimidation.

Of course, more than a few more sports talk pundits and conservative talk radio hosts came out in an unveiled assault of bigotry against the football players.

To their credit, the players and the League refused to bow to the demands of the police unions and loud-mouth conservative talking heads. Police officers, whose salaries are paid by our taxes, are not above the law.

Bryant reminded those who tried to shout the athletes down that they live in the United States of America:

“The beauty of our country lies in its democracy. I think if we ever lose the courage to be able to speak up for things that we believe in, I really think we really lose the value that our country stands for.”

Tommie Smith, John Carlos, Muhammad Ali and Vera Caslavska, the Czech gymnast who protested the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia by turning away from the Soviet flag during the medal ceremony—can definitely understand what today’s athletes are experiencing.

Michael Sam Comes Out.

After being picked in the seventh round of the 2014 NFL Draft, 2013 Southeastern Conference Player of the Year, Michael Sam shares a kiss with his lover, Vito Commisano on camera. The video caused a social firestorm.

After being picked in the seventh round of the 2014 NFL Draft, 2013 Southeastern Conference Player of the Year, Michael Sam shares a kiss with his lover, Vito Commisano on camera. The video caused a social firestorm.

It wasn’t so much that former University of Missouri star Michael Sam announced to the world that he was gay prior to the NFL Draft, it was the long kiss he gave to his lover Vito Commissano on hearing the news he was draft by the St. Louis Rams that threw the social media world into a frenzy.

Most of the vitriol centered on the perception that Sam was trying to impose his “gay lifestyle” upon us heterosexual folks. But while Sam ended up getting cut from the Rams and releases by the Dallas Cowboys practice squad, his presence reminded us that, in the words of gay rights activists, gay athletes are “here, they’re queer…”

And society needs to get used to it…because it’s difference that makes us stronger.

LA Clippers Protest Racist Remarks by Donald Sterling.

LA Clippers protest racist remarks by  thent team owner Donald Sterling. Photo by Indystar.com

LA Clippers protest racist remarks by thent team owner Donald Sterling. Photo by Indystar.com

The NBA was a hotbed of social justice action in 2014.

Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling found himself in hot water when a recording of a conversation he had with his bi-lfriend V. Stiviano hit the TMZ airwaves.

In this conversation Sterling, who was hit with a record-breaking fine by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development for housing discrimination based on race, chastised Stiviano for bringing Black people to Clippers games and taking an Instagram photo with NBA Hall-of-Famer and owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Magic Johnson.

Once the tape hit the street, Clippers players including All-Stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin held a 45 minute meeting to discuss a response prior to the team’s playoff game against the Golden State Warriors that night.

Although there was talk of the Clippers boycotting the game to get back at Sterling, the players opted to protest by removing their warm-up shirts and leaving them at center court and wearing black arm or wrist bands and black socks instead, something that players from the Houston Rockets and the Portland Trailblazers also did to show solidarity.

It was the first real test of new NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s leadership. When he banned Sterling from the league for life and forced him to sell the team, everyone agreed Silver had passed it.

But Sterling got $2 billion out of the deal, so you’ll have to forgive me for thinking that in this case racism, like crime, paid.

When “You Throw Like a Girl” Became a Compliment

Mo'ne Davis' 70 mile-per-hour fast ball led the Taney Dragons of South Philadelphia to the Little League World Series.

Mo’ne Davis’ 70 mile-per-hour fast ball led the Taney Dragons of South Philadelphia to the Little League World Series.

Thanks to pitcher Mo’Ne Davis of South Philly’s Taney Dragons, 2014 became the year we all wanted to “throw like a girl”.

The 13-year-old with the 70-mile per hour fastball led the Dragons to the Little League World Series, a first for a Philadelphia team. Mo’Ne also became the first girl to pitch a shutout in a LLWS game, and scored the cover of Sports Illustrated, threw wiffle balls at Jimmy Fallon with battery mate Scott Bandura and met one of her idols, Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw.

Although the Dragons finished 2-2 during their trip to Williamsport, they, and the Jackie Robinson West team from Chicago that went on to become U.S. Champions, served notice that city-based baseball was back, that kids of color knew how to play…

And that unless you’re hurling a 70-mile-an-hour fastball, don’t tell us you “throw like a girl”…

 

I Can’t Breathe: Black Athletes Show Solidarity With Protesters against Police Brutality

12 Dec

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Athletes from football and basketball are donning, "I Can't Breathe" Tee-Shirts to show support for protesters across. Photo by CBS Lov

Athletes from football and basketball are donning, “I Can’t Breathe” Tee-Shirts to show support for protesters across. Photo by CBS Local Sacramento .

The lack of indictments against the police officers who killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner and the growing number of unarmed African-Americans being shot down by law enforcement officials has sparked protests throughout the country.

Some of the demonstrations have included protestors lying down in malls, blocking highways, wearing t-shirts saying, “Black Lives Matter” and “I can’t breathe” while conducting “die-ins” outside of professional sports venues as well.

Led by the energy of young activists and the wisdom of established Civil Rights leadership, the groundswell to end police brutality is growing into to a mass movement reminiscent of the Civil Rights and Anti-Vietnam War movements of the 1960s.

Among the more surprising groups of participants in these protests has been the Black athlete.

Their participation is surprising because this particular group of athletes grew up hearing Michael Jordan’s “Republicans buy sneakers, too” mantra and have been conditioned not to take a stand on issues of social issues for fear of losing millions in endorsements.

While at one time such gestures as Tommie Smith-John Carlos’s Black power salute at the 1968 Summer Olympics and Muhammad Ali refusing to accept his induction into the U.S. Army would have been commonplace, the Black athlete of the Post-Civil Rights movement has for the most part, silent or indifferent when it comes to issues of race.

Over the years, Jordan and O.J. Simpson, who is now serving time in prison, made millions in endorsements because they chose to remain race neutral or simply refused to answer questions regarding race. Their silence ultimately became part of the blueprint for Black athletes aspiring to success beyond the athletic field.

Until now…

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant dons his "I can't Breathe" T-shirt during his team's around on Monday.

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant dons his “I can’t Breathe” T-shirt during his team’s around on Monday.

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James, who organized a group photo of his then-Miami Heat teammates in hooded sweatshirts to protest the death of Trayvon Martin, and Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant joined members of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets, Lakers point guard Jeremy Lin, Detroit Lions running back Reggie Bush, Cleveland Browns cornerback Johnson Bademosi, and the entire Georgetown University Men’s Basketball squad in wearing t-shirts that said “I Can’t Breathe”, which were Garner’s last words as New York Police Officer Daniel Panteleo choked him to death.

Earlier in the season, members of the Washington NFL team came out before a game doing the “Hands up, Don’t Shoot” gesture in solidarity with the protesters in Ferguson, Missouri and two weeks ago five members of the St. Louis Rams, Ferguson’s home team, did the same.

Of course, the reaction from more than few fans and sports talk show hosts was the old “just shut up and play.” The St. Louis Police Officers Association was so put off by the Rams protest that they called on the NFL to discipline the players.

Even Bryant got some of the vitriol. A radio talking head, CBS college basketball analyst Doug Gottlieb said of Bryant on Twitter: “Kobe Bryant lives in Newport Coast, takes a chopper to the games, made $60m last 2 years…the struggle is real #ICANTBREATH.”

Although Gottlieb’s attempt at snark has been deleted, it was another way of saying that as a Black man who makes millions of dollars playing a game, he should just be grateful to earn his money and leave the political statements to others.

Speaking out against police officers killing young unarmed African-American men is not on the approved list of things for Black athletes to do. If Bryant had praised police officers and wore an LAPD hat and a shirt that said God Bless America, he would be a hero and the toast of the FOX News propaganda circuit.

In a piece he wrote for Peter King’s Monday Morning Quarterback column in Sports Illustrated,  Bademosi addressed this contention, saying that certain things are far too important to remain silent about.

“This issue as I see it—police killings as a symptom of the systematic and historical devaluing of Black lives—seemed too big to ignore,” he said in his piece. “The NFL wants to make players public lives conform to its standards. But when exceptional issues call for us to speak our minds, the league and the fans need to see us as men, with our own opinions and the freedom to express them.”

It was that form of consciousness during the Civil Rights Movement that motivated Black football players to threaten a boycott the American Football League 1965 All-Star game because of racism in New Orleans. It was Smith and Carlos raising their fists in the air on the gold medal stand in solidarity with African-Americans experiencing injustice.

In the words of the Talking Heads: “Same as it ever was.”