Tag Archives: Michael Sam

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From challenging outdated stereotypes of sexual orientation to throwing a spotlight on issues such as police brutality, Black athletes decided that their membership in the Black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

 

Respect Difference: Sam’s Kiss is a Defiant Message Against Bigotry

14 May

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

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 Defensive Player of the Year, Michael Sam shares a kiss with his lover, Vito Commisano on camera. The video caused a social media firestorm.

PHILADELPHIA—In a television special on NBC in 1968, Harry Belafonte and white British pop singer Petula Clark performed an anti-war duet—“Path to Glory”.
During the course of the performance, Clark touched Belafonte’s arm.

A white account executive from Chrysler, the sponsor of the show, demanded that the segment be deleted from the special before it aired not only because it would offend viewers from the South, but because it offended the account executive’s racial sensibilities as well. He wanted it replaced with video that showed Belafonte and Clark performing the song, but standing apart.

But Clark and her husband, the executive producer of the show, refused to allow the sentiments of the Chrysler executive or Southern viewers to make them change the segment.

It was the first time a Black man and a white woman touched one another on national television.

Fast forward to the 2014 NFL Draft.

University of Missouri star defensive end Michael Sam was drafted by the St. Louis Rams in the seventh round and celebrated the moment, the moment of becoming the first openly gay player to be picked in the NFL Draft, by kissing his boyfriend, Vito Cammisano, on camera.

Social media, as it is wont to do, blew up shortly afterward. While many found it historic, there was a contingent of folks, most of them male, who couldn’t get past the fact Sam, the Southeastern Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year, was kissing a man on camera.

For some of us card-carrying heterosexuals, it was a bit over the top. The reactions I saw on Facebook, Twitter, and among the people at my favorite watering hole kept bringing a line from the Gil Scott-Heron classic hit “B” Movie to mind:

“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….”

Witnessing people whine about their discomfort and display their prejudices with the pride they’d rather not see gays and lesbians express in regard to this situation made me truly understand why my gay brothers and sisters have been so fervently fighting for their right to express themselves.

American society has always had this “discomfort” with people who aren’t White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant heterosexuals. There’s this perception that you are only a true American if you’re willing to sacrifice your culture, your beliefs, and even your sexual orientation to appease the racism, sexism, and homophobia of the White men who run this society. Difference is seen as inferior in America and because it’s inferior, it must be stamped out.

Over the years, I have watched and covered the NFL Draft. When a young athlete hears his name being called, he kisses his mom and his wife or his girlfriend. It’s a happy day for that young man.

But while we tend not to look twice when a young man engages in a public display of affection with his Mom or female Significant Other, the Double Standard reared its ugly head when Sam and Cammisano kissed.

The most common reaction I saw was “Why do we have to see that?!”, which was closely followed by “Why are gay people are trying to impose their lifestyle on us?!” and my personal favorite, “What do I say to my kids?!”

Let’s keep it real, here. You were watching the NFL Draft and this happened. That’s why you saw it. Secondly, unless something has changed over the last few days and I don’t know about it, there is no law on the books that makes you have to become a homosexual. Thus, no one is forcing you to do anything.

And lastly, you tell your kids the exact same thing that you tell them when they see a man and a woman kissing: That’s what two people do when they love each other. Unless you’re like most parents, then you cover both of your ears and go “la-la-la-la-la” to avoid the question.

What disappointed me the most is that African Americans, a group of people who are among the experts in how America handles those with whom it is uncomfortable, were the ones asking the questions above.

I was even more disappointed in the straight-up lack of empathy with our gay and lesbian neighbors.

If you need any evidence of just how uncomfortable this country still is with the presence of Black people even after the Civil Rights Movement, go to Google, punch in “Barack Obama”, and catch the wave.

From being stopped by the cops stopping you for no reason, to not being able to get a cab even when dressed in a suit and tie, America shows African Americans just how uncomfortable it is with us on a daily basis.

Even when we do things to make the majority culture comfortable with us like making our kids cut their locs or straighten their hair, it doesn’t help.

That’s unacceptable to me. The idea that gay people, African-Americans or anyone has to go out of their way to appease someone’s comfort and prejudice is just wrong.

For gays and lesbians, fear of violent retribution, losing your job, and being shunned by your family kept such simple things as holding your lover’s hand in public out of reach for decades. Heck, the whole reason for the Stonewall riots, the event that began the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Liberation Movement, was that gay and lesbian patrons were getting tired of being dragged out of the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village by New York City police for the simple act of dancing together.

But while the pre-Stonewall days are behind us in a way, the reaction to Sam’s Draft Day kiss shows that while we can tolerate two men dancing together in a dark nightclub, we still can’t handle them holding hands, kissing or any of the myriad public displays of affection that are going on between heterosexual couples right now as we speak.

From the moment he came out and forced NFL general managers to put “openly gay man” and “football player” in the same sentence, Michael Sam has been consistent in putting his happiness before society’s comfort.

And even though you may not like it, you have to respect it.