I was only an infant when Tommy Smith and John Carlos threw up the black fist in Mexico City; a young pup when Muhammad Ali refused to participate in the Vietnam War. There was a time when many African-American sports figures and icons took to the streets and spoke out for social justice. They were not afraid to lend their voices and their fame to give attention to important issues they cared about. They were courageous enough to risk their careers if necessary to stand up for what they believed was right.
Unfortunately that was a long time ago. Rarely do we see black superstar athletes stand up for anything having to do with more than their latest contract negotiations. The money guys like Ali, Smith and Carlos made pales in comparison to the astronomical millions today’s athletes bank above their predecessors.
Our most successful and marketable black athletes too often stray as far away from civic issues as they can. I will always remember Michael Jordan’s refusal to support a progressive African-American candidate Harvey Gantt for state senate in his native North Carolina. Not because he agreed more with the politics of the infamously racist Helms, but because, “Republicans by sneakers too.” Jordan was the symbol and poster child of the New Crossover Negro who believed it far more important to hawk product and filling his own coffers rather than possibly alienating potential buyers with moral controversy. Tiger Woods has picked up the baton running that race with ease by denying all things black whether it be per his own heritage and identity as well as the women he chooses to marry and fool around with. Woods is as vanilla as the ice cream in my freezer and as close to anti-black as one could be with deference to Justice Thomas.
Whether it was the Rodney King beating, presidential races, supreme court decisions or 17 year old children with candy and a drink, sadly Jim Brown, Bill Russell and Arthur Ashe are not walking through these doors.
This is what makes the tweeted photo by LeBron James and his Miami Heat teammates in support of justice for Trayvon Martin an eye opener for me. The Heat players live in South Florida. Perhaps they feel the intensity of emotions even deeper than the rest of the country. Perhaps some of the players have had their own issues with being pulled over for DWB (Driving While Black) with even more emphasis because they drive the finest cars money can buy. I don’t know. But I respect James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh for being a part of a symbolic show of solidarity to Trayvon’s family as well as every other young black male in the United States. I respect them especially because they are the faces of their franchise and the league that so many Americas pays attention to.
Former NBA players Etan Thomas and Craig Hodges were no strangers to standing up for unpopular beliefs. Hodges so much so that he was literally blackballed from the NBA after presenting former President Bush a list of social issues he thought The President should address when the Chicago Bulls visited The White House. If Jordan makes that move, it carries more weight and no way is the biggest revenue generating player the league had ever seen pushed out the door.
So big ups to LeBron, Wade, Bosh and the rest of the Heat players. You didn’t have to march like the old school. But you did use the most powerful and significant tool given your generation which is social media. And for me, that speaks volumes!