Shortly after Jeronimo Yanez was found not guilty in the shooting of Philando Castile, I thought tirelessly about where to find relief. Regardless of video evidence to the contrary, a jury of peers were able to justifiably acquit Yanez to the dismay of many black people around the country. The feelings of injustice, inequality, and of prejudice continued to permeate my mind leading me into a space of hopelessness and dismay. Usually during these times, reading ESPN, finding an article about my beloved Dallas Cowboys (who continue to find themselves in the news for negative reasons), or just allowing my brain to inhabit a space through sports where the cares of this world seem obsolete was a necessary next step. Those days appear to be over.
The current societal landscape, including that of professional athletics, overshadows any solace that watching, playing, or researching sports could seek to provide. And I don’t know exactly what my recourse should be.
The United States is in somewhat of a social and political conundrum, and no amount of LaVar + Lonzo Ball, NBA Summer League exploits can rescue us. There are some hard truths that we have to grapple with as citizens. People of all walks of life are struggling, and the picture is not getting brighter any time soon. New York Daily News writer Shaun King recently published this story, highlighting many reason why the United States still has lot of work to do. Here is a brief summary of what he identified:
- Not only does this country incarcerate more people than any other country, but black men make up the largest portion of the population at 37.5% (more than the number of total enslaved people in 1950)
- We rank No. 1 in officer-related killings; there have been over 600 this year alone
- 11 percent of the population is uninsured, compared to 0% and mere fractions of percentages in countries such as Canada, France and Germany
- The United States ranks 36th out of 41 wealthy countries on UNICEF’s child poverty measurement
- The current president and his administration do not seem to care about people in this country
And here are some other numbers that I figured I would just drop into this article because why not:
- Despite being only 12 percent of the total population, black people comprise 42% of the nation’s homeless population
- Black, Latinx, and all other non-white populations only hold approximately 12% of the nation’s wealth
- Black and Latinx students are still 14 and 11 percent less likely to graduate from college in four years compared to white students
Some of this information may be new, but most of these statistics are symptoms of larger societal issues that the U.S. has faced for some time.
In my first two years of undergrad, I chose to double major in biology and math. I was destined to be a cardiothoracic surgeon. After every biology, organic chemistry, and calculus exam, I would go straight to the gym. I needed that release. My mind needed to be cleared, and basketball and weightlifting provided that outlet. If I left the exam with that sinking feeling of failure, the gym provided comfort. If I left confident that I conquered my challenge, the thrill of getting buckets on the random dudes occupying space on the hoop court felt that much sweeter. While my dreams of surgical bliss took a detour, sports has always quelled any negative feelings brought about by the circumstances of life.
Unfortunately for me, that is no longer the case. Similar problems facing the other facets of our society, have risen to the forefront of professional sports. Issues of racism, sexism, homophobia, inequality and exclusion are seemingly becoming more commonplace.
At the forefront of this clash of sport/culture is Colin Kaepernick, who is being seemingly blackballed from employment in the National Football League for his silent-yet-visible protest of mistreatment of black Americans by law enforcement. We know that Kaepernick is being excluded from the NFL because 1) Michael Bennett said so, and 2) Austin Davis was signed before him—the same Austin Davis who has won three games in six seasons. Bennett’s comments speak directly to why Kaepernick is still jobless:
“For him to bring up race and politics in sports, I think it struck a lot of people in the wrong way. You watch the people that really watch football, it’s middle America and the people that buy tickets to the game aren’t really African-American people, and for him to bring that into that crowd was one thing that people felt like shouldn’t have been there.”
People feel so strongly that Kaepernick is being mistreated by the NFL, due to his stance on an issue that remains a major issue throughout black communities, that a protest was held at the NFL offices on the player’s behalf.
In June, the president of Lithuanian professional basketball team Gedvydas Vainauskas not only blamed the lack of team chemistry on the four black Americans on the roster, but had the nerve to say the following:
“We’ve always held a stance that there shouldn’t be more than two black players on the team. What happened was that coach Tomas Pacesas likes to play with black players—to control them, to teach them, to tutor them—and we ended up with four players that are black. All of a sudden, they came together to form … how should I put it … a sort of a gang. It cannot be that way; no more than two black players—I can say that from my 23 years of experience in the business. Teams, don’t ever have more than two black players … (smiles) Because that’s when bad things start to take place.”
Please tell us all how you really feel, coach!
Again with June being such an amazing month, the United States Soccer Federation decide to honor LGBT Pride month by merging the pride flag into the players’ jerseys during every international match in June. Due to all of the negative backlash from soccer fans on social media, Stars and Stripes FC had to release this article highlighting the importance of this occasion. Across different platforms comments such as the following routinely circulated.
“Thats like putting a #BlackLivesMatter jersey on teams. Let ppl decide what they stand behind instead of force feeding them. Just saying!”
“Get politics off the pitch. Honestly, I believe that. Soccer has no business getting political. Why this cause? Why not child abuse? Why not ending hunger? Why not human trafficking?”
“It’s really disappointing how if you don’t particularly like this you’re homophobic all of a sudden. By the same token, it’s not that big of a deal so people shouldn’t freak over this. My personal opinion tho, I don’t like it. I don’t think it looks good and it’s very clearly a PR move. If that makes me a homophobe or a bigot I guess I am one.”
These comments prompted the author of the post to emphasize the concerns of LGBT youth noting that “LGBT youth 13 to 17 years old are twice as likely as their peers to have been “physically assaulted, kicked, or shoved…and are four times as likely to commit suicide as their peers.” Thus, with the U.S. Soccer Federation making an intentional choice to give voice to the LGBT community through this effort, this “initiative sends a message that LGBT people are a thread in the composite American tapestry.”
Add on to all of this the most recent comments from Conor McGregor, in which he did his best to take us all back to the pre- and post-Reconstruction eras by commanding sideshow participant and current opponent Floyd Mayweather to “dance for me, boy.” Though many will still take in the spectacle of this fight, it makes focusing on the actual athletic endeavor that much harder.
From Tom Brady having a MAGA hat in his locker, to Adam Jones calling Boston fans cowards and asking for stiffer penalties for racism in baseball, to Bill Belichick’s “Dog biting man who looks Muslim, while white-looking man with assault rifle stands by happily observing” t-shirt fiasco, sports continues to intersect with society on the deepest of levels.
Scholars from Dr. Harry Edwards and Kenneth Shropshire, to journalists like William Rhoden, to websites such as The Undefeated all recognize that the current collision course of social injustice and athletics has always been inevitable. It is important to lean into the discourse, not to use sports to buffer against it. Allow your beloved fandom to serve as an intermediary navigating and understanding the difficult times for Americans, as well as persons around the world.
Because unless you are choosing to be oblivious, as a sports fan there is really no other choice.
Creator of Thin Line Collective. Disciple of the 36 chambers. By night I play fantasy sports, drink craft beer, and struggle to cook dinner for my wife and daughter.