Black Lives Matter, and that includes Black athletes

Black Lives Matter protests have dominated the media sphere over the past few weeks. The extra-judicial killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers sparked protests across the nation. The protests were focused on more than just Floyd, though. The extra-judicial killing of Breonna Taylor while she was sleeping in her home in March became a topic of protest, along with a few other racist murders over the past few years.

It even goes deeper than that, though. These protests became about more than Floyd, Taylor, or the other 1,000 people killed at the hands of United States police officers every year. It became about the systemic racism that pervades our everyday life. About how statues, city names and other landmarks are named after slavers and Confederate generals. How many buildings used as marketplaces and government buildings nowadays are former slave trading posts. How descendants of those that owned plantations in the days of chattel slavery are still able to profit off of the ownership of those plantations.

The sports world is not immune to systemic racism. Our modern concept of sports, and specifically franchise ownership itself, still contains reminants of the countries past sins. A group of largely black people put their bodies on the line to produce profits for largely white group of owners. The black people do the hard labor, the white people reap the rewards.

This is exacerbated at the college level. The group of athlete’s — majority of which are Black teenagers who have no other meaningful way to receive a college education — are unpaid while bringing in millions of dollars worth of revenue at their respective schools. Their coaches also receive millions of dollars every year, and millions of dollars of bonuses depending on their successes.

This makes it especially troubling when racism is discovered within these teams, like recently as there has been a surge of student athlete’s speaking up against racism within their own programs. Iowa Hawkeye’s footballs strength coach Chris Doyle was recently fired after multiple allegations from past and present players arose regarding Doyle’s racism. Former Clemson Tigers’ football players alleged that head coach Dabo Swinney — one of the biggest figures in the sport — covered up one of his white assistant coaches using racial slurs towards black players.

Chuba Hubbard, the Oklahoma State Cowboys’ star running back recently stated that he would refuse to take part in team activities after head coach Mike Gundy — another legend in the sport — was photographed wearing a One America News Network t-shirt on a family trip. OAN as it is often called, is a right wing propaganda rag known for racism, anti-semitism, fascism and most recently pushing conspiracy theories surrounding COVID-19.

The fact that we have finally entered a culture where Black Americans finally feel comfortable speaking up for themselves, even when doing so puts themselves in jeopardy, it is clear that the changes are only minimal.

While the Hawkeye’s let go of Doyle, he still received a windfall of around $1 million after his release. Nothing was done in Clemson’s situation, and Swinney has been one of the main proponents for restarting the college football season on time despite concerns regarding COVID-19 (which as entirely different situation). In particular, Swinney has been one of the worst figures in college football. He wins, a lot, but he has advocated against players getting paid, he has disastrous politics and now has apparently been harboring racism within his program. The coach is also one of the highest paid figures in the league and collects millions in bonuses due to the success of his unpaid players.

One of the most disappointing outcomes is that of Hubbard and Gundy. A few hours after Hubbard and many other Cowboys’ players publicly denounced their coach, a video was posted on Twitter of the pair addressing the situation. In the video, Hubbard apologizes for speaking up for himself, while Gundy just pontificates about political opinions and football for a little bit. The video feels like a hostage video. Someone behind the scene’s pulled the strings and Hubbard was forced to apologize for speaking up against racism from his head coach.

It is hard to say that any sort of justice was served in any situation, similar to how justice is often never served in the real world.

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On June 12th ESPN NBA reporter Adrian Wojnarowski Tweeted an article alongside the caption “ESPN story on Kyrie Irving, the disruptor”.

The accompanying article was about a phone conference between many NBA players led by the Brooklyn Nets guard regarding the return of the league on July 31st. Irving, and many other NBA players, had concerns that the return of basketball could provide a distraction from a budding civil rights movement across the country.

Irving and many of his peers are Black Americans just like everyone else. While many have now reached a point in there careers where they are financially secure and make well above the average American, many of these players grew up in poverty. They experienced the worst of systemic racism, and understand how hard it is to overcome that racism unless you happen to be able to shoot a ball well. Almost all also played in the predatory system of college basketball.

The framing Wojnarowski used for his tweet was interesting. Reading it without context, you would believe Irving was working behind the scene’s to disrupt the NBA for nefarious causes. In reality, Irving just opened a discussion with other players regarding the future of their league.

Many other reporters chose to demonize Irving with their framing of the issue as well. Fox Sports’ Jason McIntyre — who ironically had blacked out his Twitter avatar in support of the Black Lives Matter movement — referred to Irving as an entitled brat. A reporter at The Athletic recommended for players to just scream during games about the movement.

This came only a week after many reporters — many of which stood against former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in 2016 when he kneeled for the national anthem to protest racism in America — suddenly revised history and came out in support of it. The same media sphere that derailed and demonized the movement beforehand had a chance to repent for their sins in the present, though. Irving was discussing ways to bring the issue to the forefront of the American consciousness, just like Kaepernick did, and just like Kaepernick, the media demonized him for it.

The sports world is not far removed from the real world. We treat athletes the way we do other laborers, and treat Black athlete’s the way we do other Black Americans. BLM protesters have managed to make some change but have largely been dismissed. Claims of “white agitators” have been used as excuses to demonize the movement. Many have dismissed calls to defund the police, and Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee in the upcoming Presidential election, has even declared that he plans to do the opposite of the protesters demands by increasing police funding. Black athlete’s have spoken up for their rights as well, and have largely been dismissed and demonized as well.

Freelance writer. Bylines in American Magazine, SB Nation and Mondoweiss. Culture and Sports.

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