Black Athletes in Racist America
Black athletes have been at the forefront of helping break down racial barriers, bring attention to social (in)justice. This can be done merely by presence-as in the case of Jesse Owens and Jackie Robinson- or by challenging structural barriers- as is the case in Muhammad Ali and Colin Kaepernick. Often the black community wants our athletes to use their platform to bring light to issues of injustices. The WNBA went so far to fine players that wore black lives matter shirts and in the face of OVERWHELMING scrutiny the WNBA quickly reversed that decision.
Tommy Smith and John Carlos held their fist in the air covered by black leather gloves in a great act of defiance at Olympic Medal stand during national anthem. Anticipating some kind of protest was afoot, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had sent Jesse Owens to talk them out of it, yes the same Jesse Owens who won 4 gold medals in the 1936 Olympics. They were quickly booed and insulted by the crowd and people began to throw things at them and scream racial slurs. "Niggers need to go back to Africa!" and, "I can't believe this is how you niggers treat us after we let you run in our games." WE LET YOU RUN IN OUR GAMES?! As if the fastest two men in their discipline need any more permission than being the two fastest men in their discipline. You know the typical ‘shut the fuck up nigger and just entertain us ‘ attitude from the white general public.
American sentiment has never been to kind to black athletes who directly challenge the system that gives them privilege and oppresses other people. What Colin Kaepernick is doing for the cultural right now threatens EVERYTHING he has worked hard to gain. He is not taking a stand for himself; he is taking stand for a community that has historically faced institutional barriers and injustices. He is challenging white supremacy, which has been baked into our laws since the inception of this country. You will hear white athletes who have remained silent on police brutality say things like ‘he could have handle this a different way. Their way of handling police brutality in black communities is to ignore it and/or stay silent. Or the white media who will try to muddy the water and say he is disrespecting our military personnel, while being silent on lawmakers who propose to cut military pension, health benefits, cost of living adjustments, and even a reduction of benefits to the GI bill. Folks want Colin Kaepernick to make them feel comfortable and quite honestly he is not with the shits AT ALL. The killing of unarmed blacks we have been dealing with since lynching in the 1700’s, this isn’t something new and people like Kaepernick are fed the fuck up and are refusing to sit in silence. Sadly only one active black football player has unequivocally come out in support (there could be more but I haven’t seen it) of him and that’s Michael Bennett and one entertainer Tip. I feel we have a moral obligation as a community to support and uplift athletes like Colin Kaepernick who are fighting for something bigger than themselves. We live in world where a Presidential candidate can run around and denigrate America by constantly reminding us that America that America isn’t great and these same patriots praise him and they condemn a young black man for wanting police held accountable for incidents of brutality.
All too often the American Dream, when realized by black Americans who happen to be athletes, isn’t a reality that white Americans want afforded to black folk. Especially when black athletes have the audacity to take a stand against white privilege and white supremacy. These are not isolated incidents, these have been a well documented throughout the history of American athletics, black person takes a pro-black stance on social issues and the American public shuns them in large part.
I’m left reminded of a great quote, “When you come from privilege, equality feels like oppression.”