Over the past year, it seems sports in this country has been taken over by politics when, in reality, the two have been so closely intertwined for years…decades in fact. The current ‘crisis’ involves San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and Baltimore Orioles center fielder Adam Jones. Their issues, or at least the issues they’re trying to bring to the forefront, are those that have faced our nation since, well, before the Civil War.
I, as someone who participates in sports and owns a sports media website, have mostly been on the sideline throughout this argument because I’ve been of the opinion that sports and politics should remain separate, but I’ve changed my opinion.
I recognize that young Americans of all color see athletes as role models, along with members of the military and law enforcement, as well as doctors and nurses. The truth is that we, no matter what profession we are part of, in some ways are looked upon as heroes for people younger than us. And if the adults would rather their kids not look to people like Kaepernick or Adams as heroes because they chose not to stand for the National Anthem, or because they chose to publicly point out what they see as racism or oppression, then maybe we – the adults – need to look at ourselves in the mirror.
To be perfectly clear, I respect and understand the struggles that members of law enforcement and the military go through, and I do respect Kaepernick’s right to not stand during the National Anthem. I don’t view it as disrespecting the flag or members of the military.
The people who fight every day for our freedom do so because they know they’ll represent people that agree and disagree with what happens in this country on a daily basis. If the only thing we see is Kaepernick not standing for the Anthem or Jones saying baseball has become “a white man’s” sport, then we’re willfully ignoring the issues they’re trying to bring to the forefront.
It is true that men like me, Kaepernick and Jones, who are minorities, have benefited from being great at our jobs and have been paid well by those same “white men,” but the struggle they are trying to bring focus to is those who don’t have a voice. So, while they could shut their mouths and stand for the Anthem, they’re sacrificing the respect that many have for them and endorsement dollars to help those who cannot help themselves. In reality, that’s what being a hero is; sacrificing yourself for the good of others.
No, Jones and Kaepernick aren’t walking into the line of fire every day, though San Fransisco and Baltimore aren’t exactly the safest communities, what they are doing is saying, “I know I’ve had a good life but what can we do for others in my community that aren’t?” I’m also not on board with the assertion that police officers are murdering African-Americans at a historically high rate. And yes, if people didn’t commit crimes they wouldn’t be in the position to have interactions with law enforcement.
But, let’s think about this for a second, for years’ crack and cocaine criminal cases were adjudicated differently in the federal courts until Americans demanded equal laws and sentencing. What’s the obvious difference between crack cocaine and cocaine, well it’s literally black and white. The sentence for crack cocaine was completely different than it was for powder cocaine. Fundamentally, aren’t they same?
So, when I go out with my mostly white friends on a Friday night and they ask me about Kaepernick, their expectation might be that I think he should stand up and shut his mouth. Honestly, I do want him to stand up, but I don’t want him, or you, or anyone else to shut their mouth because it might disrupt the peace and calm that we suburbanites enjoy. When I’m critical of all the “Clevelanders” who’ve never lived in the city, or move when they have kids, it’s because nothing in Cleveland will get better until the people who can make a change, do make a change.
Don’t tell anyone else who writes at Campus Pressbox, but baseball is my favorite sport. I played when I was a kid and tried out when I got to high school. I didn’t make the team. I didn’t cry or claim I didn’t make the team because I was back. I moved on with life and made myself better.
Sometimes someone saying “no” is what makes you stronger as a person, but don’t ever tell someone they should stop talking because they’re already privileged enough. When Jones says that baseball has become a “white man’s sport,” he’s both right and wrong. He’s both willfully ignoring the number of other minorities that are prevalent in the sport and not doing anything in his community to bring additional black kids into the sport.
No, you cannot make kids play baseball if they think it’s boring, but like the National Football League, Major League Baseball can encourage their teams to put more minorities in positions of power. Encourage doesn’t mean enact a version of the Rooney Rule, but say, if all things are equal, maybe it’s best to put a minority in this spot instead of the same guy that’s already been fired three times.
Nothing in this country will change until Americans of all color decide there’s a problem and that we need to fix it. We can hide in the suburbs and pretend like everything is great, but your kids don’t see color unless you teach them to. So, maybe it’s time we stop trying to make things about color and make things about equality.
E-mail Damien at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @damienbowman.
Photos: Damien Bowman/Self.