Dave Zirin: Six US athletes speaking out for Black Lives Matters

July 15, 2016
Leonard Fournette wearing T-shirt depicting victim of murder by police, Alton Sterling

Professional athletes provide a flicker of hope during these agonising days by speaking out against police violence.

“Shut up and play” clearly doesn't fly when black bodies are falling at the hands of those whose job is to serve and protect. In fact, it's almost surprising now when football and basketball players — the two sports most dependent on black labour — do not speak out.

Now, after the filmed deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, athletes' statements — which have the potential to reach an audience far beyond the normal political blather — are starting up yet again. Here are six:

Carmelo Anthony — The New York Knicks NBA star unleashed a mini-manifesto about the need for athletes to speak out. In the most potent part of his missive, he said: “There's NO more sitting back and being afraid of tackling and addressing political issues anymore. Those days are long gone. We have to step up and take charge.

“We can't worry about what endorsements we gonna lose or whose [sic] going to look at us crazy. I need your voices to be heard. We can demand change. We just have to be willing to. THE TIME IS NOW ... DEMAND CHANGE.”

Not since Muhammad Ali — whom Melo references earlier — has someone taken on the endorsers as a point of political pride. Granted, Ali said: “God damn the white man's money!” but it's a step in that direction: independence from those who seek to “brand” and muzzle athletes.

Serena Williams — Arguably the planet's most important athlete, the tennis superstar took a break from Wimbledon yet again to declare: “In London I have to wake up to this. He was black. Shot 4 times? When will something be done — no REALLY be done?!?!” She then posted a description of what happened to Philando Castile.

Serena also gave us a hell of an image on the Wimbledon's grass court, raising her fist in the Black Power style of John Carlos and Tommie Smith from the 1968 Olympics.

Bradley Beal — The Washington Wizards NBA star stood his ground in a manner rarely seen when athletes get pushback for their words. After posting the hashtag #blacklivesmatter on the same night the Dallas police officer sniper shootings took place, he was flooded with criticism, accused by Internet scolds of being “insensitive”. He was also hit with #AllLivesMatter as a response.

Responding, Beal wrote: “The issue at hand regards my race and I have every right to speak on it! If you don't like it, it's a big ass UNFOLLOW button on the top of my page!

“Saying all lives matter is like saying we all need air to breathe! We all know that!!!! Killing a cop is no better than a cop taking a life! Innocent black lives are being taken by those sworn to protect and serve, not murder!

“When does it come to an end? And you wonder why people rage? We aren't getting justice, just more body counts! People are getting sick of this sh*t! So yes, Black Lives Matter!”

Leonard Fournette — The LSU football star running back posed wearing an Alton Sterling T-shirt. Fournette resonates because he plays in Baton Rouge, where Sterling was killed. He is also a college athlete with far less protection to speak without fear of reprisal than the pros.

Cheryl Reeve — The coach of women's professional basketball side Minnesota Lynx tweeted: “To rebut BLM with 'All Lives Matter' implies that all lives are equally at risk, and they're not. #BlackLivesMatter doesn't mean your life isn't important if you aren't black—it means that Black lives, which are seen without value within White supremacy, are important.”

Huston Street — The last statement of note is from the Los Angeles Angels pitcher, who tweeted: “Pray for #PhilandoCastile and #AltonSterling families and then demand justice, my nephews are young black men and their future depends on it.”

Street is a white baseball player. The response from white, male athletes, as well as any outrage from the world of Major League Baseball, has been close to non-existent.

One thing is clear: white athletes need to step it up. It is absurd that the entire weight of speaking out against these racist murders is placed on the shoulders of Black athletes.

If white athletes truly care about their Black and brown teammates, if they really are a “family” like every squad says, then they should take some of the weight. They can learn a lesson from the white football players at Missouri who stood with their Black teammates when they refused to play unless the school president, Tim Wolfe, was removed.

Solidarity at this moment is not only key to winning a better world. It is a profound moral imperative.

[Abridged from Edge Of Sports.]

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