Tag Archives: Michael Brown

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From challenging outdated stereotypes of sexual orientation to throwing a spotlight on issues such as police brutality, Black athletes decided that their membership in the Black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”…

 

Hands Up, Don’t Shoot: Rams Players Were Right to Stand up For Michael Brown

4 Dec

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

(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.

As a long-time sportswriter and columnist, one thing I have never done in print or cyberspace is openly express my fandom for a particular team, especially those I cover on a regular basis.

But last Sunday I became a fan of five members of the St. Louis Rams—Stedman Bailey, Tavon Austin, Jared Cook, Chris Givens and Kenny Britt, not so much for what they did on the field in a 52-0 shutout of the Oakland Raiders, but for what they did before the game.

As they came out of the tunnel to begin the game, Bailey, Austin, Cook, Givens and Britt displayed, “the hands up, don’t shoot” gesture made popular during in Ferguson, Missouri during demonstrations protesting the decision of a St. Louis County Grand Jury not to indict former Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown.

Britt and rookie running back Tre Mason also performed the gesture during the game after scoring touchdowns.

Rams fans at Edward Jones Dome  in St. Louis express their views about the decision not to indict Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed Michel Brown in Ferguson, Mo.  Photo by CBS local in St. Louis.

Rams fans at Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis express their views about the decision not to indict Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed Michel Brown in Ferguson, Mo. Photo by CBS local in St. Louis.

Black men, whether they be athletes or a sports writers, recognize that any of us can be victims of violence at the hands of police officers in the same way  Brown, Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old who was recently shot to death in Cleveland while wielding a toy gun- were killed by the cops.

But usually, athletes tend to stay on the sidelines while others take to the streets in protest of yet another instance of the missive “There’s no justice, there’s just-us”. The possibility of lost endorsements, lost prestige and lost contract dollars tends to be their first thought.

In the tradition of Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ Black Power salute at the 1968 Summer Olympics, the players decided to use their place on the NFL stage to highlight just how big a problem police brutality is, and how important it is to solve it.

“I just think there has to be a change,” Cook told the Associated Press. “There has to be a change that starts with the people that are most influential around the world.”

There was the inevitable push back, however, and it came from the St. Louis Police Officer’s Association. The SLPOA called on the NFL to discipline the players and make them apologize to police for making the gesture, which they called “tasteless, offensive and inflammatory.”

While the Police Association acknowledged the player’s First Amendment rights, they also threatened to mount a protest of their own against the League.

“Cops have First Amendment rights too, and we plan to exercise ours,” said Jeff Roorda, a spokesman for the Police Association. “I’d remind the N.F.L. and their players that it is not the violent thugs burning down buildings that buy their advertisers’ products. It’s cops and the good people of St. Louis and other N.F.L towns that do. Somebody needs to throw a flag on this play. If it’s not the N.F.L. and the Rams, it’ll be cops and their supporters.”

(I should probably mention here that Roorda isn’t really a cop anymore. He was fired from his job as a cop in Arnold, Missouri for making false statements. Irony…)

To their credit, the NFL refused to bow down to the schoolyard bullies of the Police Association and discipline the players for exercising their First Amendment rights. I guess that Roger Goodell is too busy dealing with domestic violence and child abuse to add “attempting to change the Constitution because some cop’s feelings got hurt” to his to-do list.

But my question to the St. Louis Police Officer Association is what’s next? Will they threaten the thousands of protestors every time they point out an injustice by the cops? Will they racially profile the Rams’ Black players or refuse to provide security at future Rams games because someone dared to take a stand against the problem of police shooting unarmed Black men?

You would think in this time of heightened tensions between the African-American community and law enforcement that the St. Louis Police Officers Association would be coming up with ways to build better relationships with people of color. But all this did was reinforce the deep mistrust that many African Americans already had of the police.

While it wasn’t new, the Rams pre-game protest was refreshing in a day and age where prominent athletes shy away from anything controversial.

With their silent gesture, they spoke volumes.