They could stay quiet. They could stay home.
Instead, as protests turn violent in the middle of a 100-year pandemic, a number of athletes have chosen to write and march and post. They are the core of millennials and Generation Z, groups often dismissed as uninterested. Perhaps they recognize that, between the diseases of racism and COVID-19, their futures are in peril. So they are interested. And they are inspiring.
- Phillies, Bryce Harper express support for black community in response to George Floyd’s killing
- Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie issues emotional statement after participating in team meeting on racism
- Sixers’ Tobias Harris calls for Montgomery County commissioner Joe Gale to resign over Black Lives Matter comments
So many athletes with so much to lose are saying and doing so many things that mean so much to America. They risk losing endorsements and fans and friends. They risk their futures. If they march, as many have done, they risk their lives.
They are Bryce Harper and Carson Wentz and Zach Ertz, posting messages of unity and peace rooted in their religious beliefs.
They are Phillies cleanup hitter Rhys Hoskins, who admits he’s dumbstruck by the anguish of black people.
They are Ben Simmons, who called out President Donald Trump’s cowardice after peaceful protesters were tear-gassed to clear a walkway from the White House to a nearby church, where he staged a photo opportunity. The tear gas affected a priest at the church who was run off the property by stormtroopers. Church leadership condemned Trump’s presence. Fittingly, Trump held a Bible upside-down.
“It’s really wonderful to see,” retired Eagles executive John Wooten said of the players’ responses.
Wooten, 83, was a Pro Bowl guard who played with Jim Brown in Cleveland and spent his last 15 years helping black football coaches get jobs in the NFL with the Fritz Pollard Alliance, capping a lifetime advocating for equal rights, usually without the support of his white peers. “In my time, things were different, and the media, and social media, that wasn’t the same.”
The mainstream media today includes more people of color. Social media has amplified everyone’s voice, and many athletes have mastered its use.
Athletes such as Sixers forward Tobias Harris and former Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, who marched in Philadelphia over the weekend.
Jenkins, a co-founder of the Players Coalition LINK, offered an eloquent explanation on Twitter of the worldwide reaction to what he considers an epidemic of black men unjustly dying at the hands of the police, most recently George Floyd, killed last week by a white cop who knelt on his neck for 9 minutes.
Harris, who has become the most service-oriented athlete in the Philadelphia community, is driving an effort to oust Montgomery County commissioner Joseph C. Gale. On Monday, on his official letterhead, Gale characterized the #BlackLivesMatter organization as a “hate group.”
Second-year Eagles running back Miles Sanders went a different route, celebrating #blackouttuesday, which began as the music industry’s initiative to pause business for a day to focus on racial injustice and has spread to actors, athletes, and other celebrities.
They aren’t just tweeting and 'gramming; some are literally walking the walk. Celtics players Enis Kantor and Marcus Smart joined protests in Boston. Celtics guard Jaylen Brown and Pacers guard Malcolm Brogdon went to Atlanta to protest in their home state. Karl-Anthony Towns, the Timberwolves’ biggest star, protested in the city where George Floyd was killed.
Others are explaining to the masses what has brought America to this point. Phillies center fielder Andrew McCutchen, despairing of the police policing themselves, co-authored a plea for Congress to ensure that officers like the ones who were involved with the death of Floyd be shielded less by their superiors and their peers. This was the original, chief complaint when Jenkins and Colin Kaepernick began protesting during the national anthem in 2016.
Those sorts of explanations might help fellow athletes such as white Eagles kicker Jake Elliott, who on Twitter admitted his ignorance of the enormity of the issues his black teammates endure. The topic dominated a virtual team meeting Monday morning.
On Instagram, Flyers forward James van Reimsdyk echoed Elliott’s words and pledged to listen better.
These are new, young voices, but there are strong, old voices, too; none more eloquent or eviscerating as Gregg Popovich, as usual. The legendary San Antonio Spurs coach, who is white, proactively reached out to The Nation so he could let the world know he considers Trump a dim-witted “stooge” of puppet-master reactionaries in government, whose routine violations of the U.S. Constitution since Trump took office led Popovich to deem these protests “necessary."
But even Tiger’s message was authentic. It is, after all, who he is. Tellingly, lifelong rival Phil Mickelson, who is white, offered a more resonant post on Instagram supporting #blackouttuesday.
All of the messages inspired hope, if merely by their existence. And, most importantly, none of them was necessary. All were sent with a measure of risk for the senders.
They risk alienating millions of people; mostly conservatives, but plenty of lounge-chair liberals, too.
They have, or one day will have, young children, who will be taught in their schools by some right-leaning teachers. Their children will play down the street with children of their right-leaning neighbors. Many have right-leaning friends and relatives, so Thanksgivings and Christmases and barbecues could become contentious.