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In 2018, Fox News host Laura Ingraham told basketball stars Lebron James and Kevin Durant to “shut up and dribble” after they expressed political views and criticized President Donald Trump. That air-ball commentary from Ingraham is worth revisiting after some professional athletes and entire sports leagues boycotted or paused competitions last week in response to racial injustice and the shooting of Jacob Blake.
By choosing not to dribble (or bat, serve, etc.) at all, athletes drew even more attention to persistent inequality that continues in policing and other aspects of American life. There should be little doubt that athletes have the power — and the right, just like anyone else in a free society — to use their voices and their platforms to stand up for their beliefs and their communities.
This is a time for listening, and America needs to hear the voices sharing their experiences and perspectives about inequality in America.
Listen to Boston Red Sox center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. when he talks about the responsibility he feels to speak as the lone black player on his baseball team.
“I am the only Black person on this team,” Bradley said, as reported by Boston.com. “So I kind of feel like it’s my responsibility to address it in certain situations just so people can see what I feel and the things that I think about. I can take it on.”
The Red Sox postponed its Aug. 27 game in protest of the Blake shooting after Bradley first decided not to play in solidarity with other protests. Seven Major League Baseball games were postponed last Thursday.
“I think voices are being heard,” Bradley added. “Hopefully changes are being made and we just have to continue to grow, continue to push forward and try to be better as individuals and together as well.”
Listen to Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers, former coach of the Boston Celtics, give emotional remarks about being black in America in response to Blake’s shooting.
“It’s amazing why we keep loving this country, and this country does not love us back. It’s really so sad,” Rivers said last Tuesday. “Like, I should just be a coach. I’m so often reminded of my color. It’s just really sad. We got to do better. But we got to demand better.”
“It’s funny, we protest. They send riot guards. They send people in riot outfits. They go up to [ the Michigan State House] with guns, and they’re spitting on cops, and nothing happens,” Rivers continued. “The training has to change in the police force. The unions have to be taken down in the police force. My dad was a cop. I believe in good cops. We’re not trying to defund the police and take all their money away. We’re trying to get them to protect us, just like they protect everybody else.”
Listen to Naomi Osaka, a two-time Grand Slam winning tennis player, who initially sat out a semifinal match on Thursday as part of the protests.
“As a Black woman I feel as though there are much more important matters at hand that need immediate attention, rather than watching me play tennis,” she said in a Wednesday statement. She agreed to play Friday instead after working with Tennis officials, feeling that the postponement “brings more attention to the movement” and thanking those officials for support.
We’re glad to see athletes and leagues like the National Basketball Association return to competition, and that stadiums could become polling places — among other positive steps secured by the players last week. We expect that their platforms extend the furthest and that their microphones are loudest when they’re playing.
But we as a society cannot return to normal. Hopefully this statement by professional athletes has been another reminder of that fact.
Before anyone wonders about whether athletes should have sat out from the jobs they get paid to do, let’s not forget that the American people have been paying our members of Congress to not legislate for much of August.
We need action on police reform from Washington, and the awareness raised by athletes over the past week should help push that closer to the finish line. It should also help bring about change in our hearts and minds.
“If you’re a kid, and you turn on the TV today and you don’t see we’re playing. You ask your parents, ’Why aren’t the Red Sox playing?’ I hope the parents have a serious discussion with their kids and tell them what’s going on,” Red Sox coach Ron Roenicke said Thursday night. “Explain what’s going on because we need to discuss these things more. We need to listen more. That’s the only way we’re going to change.”