“Good morning everyone,” Johnathan Tillman’s somber message to our family began. “I want to let you know I needed yesterday’s laughs. If there are any left for today, please share.”
As of the writing of this piece, we have not shared any laughs, but we’ve shared a general concern for the recent deaths of two black men who were gunned down by police officers in consecutive days. We’ve shared a concern for this country, our mental health, our bodies and the bodies of our friends. We’re emotionally drained, yet angry; we’re concerned, yet calloused. The weight of the world, the weight of a culture designed to allow the murder of people of color, the weight of pain, the weight of it all is too much for a single mind to sit with, to think about, to hurt over. So we turned to each other – the ‘we’ being the very writers of this website, The Sports Fan Journal.
Just a day ago, I laughed with men and women in the Bay Area, the Midwest, the East Coast and the Deep South about basketball, marriage, James Harden, drugs and alcohol while at my desk in Los Angeles. Of the 20+ writers who have contributed to this website, I’ve met fewer than five in person and have talked to fewer than 10 over the phone. And yet, we trust each other with the deepest fears we have about the world we live in as much as we trust each other to take a joke. This website has become about more than loving the sports and the teams and the athletes that gave us a little piece of the universe to call our own as children, it’s become a family of people who also happen to love sports.
Next month, a few of our writers and editors will open their personal homes to many of us as we all gather in one place – the second such gathering the good folks at TSFJ has put together. We’re calling the gathering ‘The Summit’, but we’re a having a family reunion. It’s rare that any entity can build a sense of community in which every member, either still active or alumni, can have a part of any conversation and know that their voice is not only important, but coming from a place that shares the concern of the entirety of the group. Both Eddie Maisonet and Kenny Masenda began this website with a vision that extended beyond publishing thousands of words by brilliant and unique and accomplished writers, and today that vision allows the collective to sit with, think about and hurt over the constant murders of people who look like me.
I was among the original group of writers for TSFJ, and those of us who were brought on from the jump came into this project with a sense of brotherhood unique from any publication I’ve written for before or since. As we’ve expanded our team, we’ve expanded our relationships with each other. What was once a safe space to work through ideas about the sports world is now a safe space to cry when the real world happens. As I was writing this piece, one of our writers sent me a direct message saying he’s in tears at his desk at work, which nearly brought me to tears at my desk hundreds of miles away.
Black men and women continue to die for unjust reasons at the hands of mostly white men and women whose job is to keep these very men and women safe. My job here at TSFJ is to care about the significance of Dwyane Wade leaving the Miami Heat for the Chicago Bulls, but these things are rendered inconsequential during trying times like these – especially when you feel so helpless. I try to put myself out in the world and use the little tools I have at my disposal to bring awareness to those who continue to be wronged and to be helpful to those activists trying to change the world. I document protests with my camera and edit essays written by voices who care. It’s not much, but it’s the least I can do.
But when we can’t be out in the world, and the entirety of the internet is too much to handle, I know that I can turn to this team and share my thoughts and concerns and fears with people I love. I’m hurting for Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, but I don’t have to hurt alone. Knowing that helps me feel like I won’t have to hurt forever, and there may be more laughs tomorrow.
Phillip Barnett featuring Phillip Barnett.