In this watershed moment in America, from Malcolm Jenkins through Tobias Harris to Jeffrey Lurie, every team in the city has shown its brotherly love. It goes beyond the corporate statements. The stars have come out: Carson Wentz, Bryce Harper, Claude Giroux.
If you believe change in America is necessary, it must, like me, make you proud to be a Philadelphian. If, somehow, you believe America is fine as it is -- and we know many of you do -- you should at least appreciate the courage it takes for these athletes to speak as they have spoken. Owners, too. And none more significantly, more strongly, or more surprisingly than Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie.
On Sunday, in the preamble of his yearly State of the Eagles address, Lurie broke from the NFL’s ultra-conservative pack and launched an assault on the current administration’s stances on police brutality; 400 years of Black oppression; and a “tragically embarrassing” pandemic response that will leave the United States with more than 200,000 COVID-19 deaths by Nov. 3, Election Day.
Lurie also recognized his personal privilege, and how necessary it is for people like him to admit culpability: “We have to own the good and the bad, and we won’t be able to change the bad until we realize we’re responsible for it.”
He spoke with an empathy, sincerity, and depth of emotional intelligence that would make touchy-feely coach Doug Pederson look cold and heartless by comparison.
Lurie was careful, too. He never mouthed the words president or Trump. He also made sure to stress that everyone, himself included, needed to pay better attention to upcoming state and local elections as well as those that populate Washington:
“Voting has ramifications. It’s taken some of us too long -- myself included -- to realize that, from lower down on the ballot to the highest levels.”
Washington is, after all, fed and empowered by City Hall. And when Lurie offered Lincoln Financial Field as a polling place, he made sure to stress that he did so to make voting safe for all voters.
But, while Lurie’s criticisms and laments were cleverly oblique, they parallel the complaints of politicians and pundits who routinely criticize the abhorrent policies and actions of the current administration. His message was clear, and his strong, warm voice sounded nothing like Trump’s.
Lurie is the latest major sports figure to trumpet righteousness in this time of orchestrated division and turmoil. With the world locked down, the anger of the oppressed coalesced in May, after a white police officer in Minneapolis killed George Floyd by kneeling on the Black man’s neck while Floyd was handcuffed and lying in the street.
It continued all summer and erupted again last week, after a white officer in Kenosha, Wis., shot Jacob Blake, an unarmed Black man, seven times in the back on Aug. 23. Both of those incidents, along with several others, were recorded. The evidence was overwhelming. So, too, is the outrage.
Blake’s shooting sparked protests in Kenosha, where, on Tuesday night, a nightmare unfolded that haunted athletes and owners alike. A teen vigilante gunman from Illinois allegedly killed two protesters and wounded another. This spurred boycotts of games Wednesday, and Philly teams stepped up.
On Thursday, Flyers players participated in what became a two-day boycott of NHL playoff games. They did so knowing full well Alain Vigneault -- their accomplished and decorated first-year who coach who holds their futures in his hands -- did not agree.
They did not care.
“We know that it’s not going to solve everything tomorrow,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux said. “When the NBA took a stand, we all respected that, and we wanted to stand with them.”
While the Flyers were planning for their shutdown, the Phillies were meeting in a Washington hotel to plan their own. They returned to play Friday, Jackie Robinson Day, when all players wear the retired No. 42. Then the Phillies and Braves agreed to wear No. 42 all weekend along, as did other teams.
You can expect this sort of bravery from the NBA, whose players have guaranteed contracts and fully control the league’s business.
But not the NFL, whose players have the worst job security in sports, and which has had to twice institute rules to police its own institutionally discriminatory hiring practices.
And not the NHL, whose most famous analyst, Don Cherry, was fired this season for making discriminatory remarks on-air, to the dismay of many in the game.
And not Major League Baseball, where, at the Mets’ Citi Field in 2016, Phillies outfielder Roman Quinn said, he was called the N-word.
Anyone familiar with the business of baseball had to be moved by the “Black Lives Matter” T-shirts and emblems that made opening day all over the country a day of inspiration -- a unified movement engineered by Phillies outfielder Andrew McCutchen.
Harper posted his personal endorsement June 1, as protests in cities all over America and the world dominated the headlines: “I will never know what it is like to be an African American man, woman, or child. The one thing I do know is I will always stand with them and for them.”
Wentz, raised and educated in North Dakota, last week explained how he spent lockdown studying up on America’s abysmal record regarding race relations: “It’s something that [in the past], I chose to overlook and look past. ... This offseason, I took a real look into showing empathy and trying to understand what it’s like to be a Black man in this world, not just in today’s world, but going back 400 years to now, and how we got to this point.”
The NBA has been at the forefront of the movement for years, and the Sixers have led, most recently committing $20 million to Black businesses and neighborhoods, chief tenets of the causes to which Tobias Harris and Malcolm Jenkins have given their time and money for years. These causes were fully supported by Josh Harris, the Sixers’ front man, and Lurie, who has worked with Jenkins since Colin Kaepernick first kneeled in 2016.
Notably, both Harris and Jenkins were in the Philly streets marching in the George Floyd protests, putting their multi-million-dollar bodies in harm’s way, putting their money where their mouths were. They were not the only athletes in America marching, but they were practicing what they preached. As Philly does.
You don’t have to agree with it. You don’t have to support it. But you have to respect it.