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Athletes Need Not Apologize for Social Activism

by Todd A. Smith

 

Know Your Power, Use Your Platform

 

God sends blessings to those He can send blessings through.

Too many people strive for greatness just so that they can outshine their adversaries with a flashier car, bigger home or more extravagant jewelry.

I came up in the bling-bling era in which many Black athletes and entertainers were only interested in the finer things in life, not in creating a better life for those less fortunate.

However, I am extremely proud of the younger generation for doing what many in my generation were terrified of doing, which is to risk their reputations and rewards to use the platform that God has given them to unapologetically speak out against injustice, racism and discrimination.

The Civil Rights Movement was a blessing and a curse in some ways.

Many soldiers in the movement had given their lives for future generations to enjoy the fruits of their labor, and many were afraid to lose all that had been gained in the 1950s and 1960s.

Athletes like John Carlos, Tommie Smith and Lew Alcindor (now Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) were willing to risk their careers to protest and boycott the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City rather than to pretend that America was living up to its creed and constitution.

According to “The African American Encyclopedia,” Carlos was considered the best sprinter in the world from 1969-1970 but found future competition closed to him because of his Black Power salute on the medal podium with Smith at the 1968 Olympics.

Because of the struggles of outspoken athletes like Jim Brown, Hank Aaron and Bill Russell, opportunities on Madison Avenue and in the front offices of sports organizations began opening up for athletes like Michael Jordan and others, but some were afraid to ruffle the feathers of other races so they remained silent on issues that really mattered.

Although past generations were afraid to lose power and money if they became political, current athletes like LeBron James know that they are really the ones in power.

If Nike dropped James today for wearing “I Cant’ Breathe” t-shirts before games, companies like Reebok and Adidas would offer him more money to endorse their products tomorrow.

Outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder said, “For them to get out there and express in that way a social conscience, I think goes back to maybe people that these guys don’t even know or my son has a vague awareness of, to Jackie Robinson, who is seen as not only a great athlete, but as an involved, thinking, caring Black man.

“And to have LeBron, Derrick Rose and others who wore those ‘I Can’t Breathe’ shirts, that shows a level of involvement.  It shows a depth to them beyond just being great ballplayers.

“And it’s all about democracy, and who we are as a country that our celebrities, our athletic celebrities, can use their status to express I think what I call a social and political point.  I think that’s a good thing.”

Sure, the so-called powers-that-be will be upset with demonstrations like the “hands up, don’t shoot” pose displayed by members of the St. Louis Rams or t-shirts worn by Andrew Hawkins of the Cleveland Browns but who cares?

This generation of Black athletes knows that remaining quiet only maintains the racial status quo in our society.

Although many police unions are demanding apologies from the Rams’ wide receivers and Hawkins, African Americans have been demanding that police brutality stop for generations, but few have listened.

Few listened when it was Denzil Dowell in 1967.

Few listened when it was Rodney King in 1991.

Few listened when it was Sean Bell in 2006, so why should these athletes listen to people who have ignored their cries for years?

Apologies are for people with remorse, and people speaking up for their rights should never be remorseful, they should be revered.

Today’s celebrities have a bigger voice and platform than many politicians and social leaders and thankfully they are using it.

For those upset with their social activism, just remember Black celebrities are not just here to entertain you like Stepin Fetchit.  If God blessed them with a large platform, He will order their steps to make the journey easier for those following in their footsteps.

This article was published on Friday 19 December, 2014.
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