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Athlete-activists can’t be scared silent after the murder of two NYPD officers

December 22, 2014

by Dave Zirin

Over the last month, we have seen a veritable “Sports World Spring” as athletes have spoken out on politics in a manner unseen since the 1960s. They have been inspired by the #BlackLivesMatter demonstrations directed against the killing of unarmed Black men and women by police as well as the inability of the criminal justice system to deliver justice.

Lakers, from right, Jeremy Lin, Wayne Ellington, Carlos Boozer, Jordan Clarkson and Nick Young wear “I can’t breathe” T-shirts as they sit on the bench during the first half of their Dec. 9 game against the Kings. – Photo: Jae C. Hong, AP

Lakers, from right, Jeremy Lin, Wayne Ellington, Carlos Boozer, Jordan Clarkson and Nick Young wear “I can’t breathe” T-shirts as they sit on the bench during the first half of their Dec. 9 game against the Kings. – Photo: Jae C. Hong, AP

The most remarkable part of these protests was not just their breadth nor the stature of the athletes involved, but that commissioners and coaches seemed to be allowing it and in some cases, even nodding in approval. Clearly suspending LeBron James for being upset about the killing of unarmed African-Americans was not seen as savvy public relations.

Now, in the wake of the horrific killing of two NYPD detectives, everything has changed. This eruption of athlete activism will probably not only come to a close, but get thrown down the memory hole where the Masters of Sports keep the lost athletic years of Muhammad Ali, John Carlos and Craig Hodges. In other words, management support will die.

The sports bosses – and probably friends and family as well – will tell players that it is time to shut up and play. They will be told that it would be the heights of insensitivity to be seen as criticizing the police while officers, their families and many others are in mourning. It would be tasteless, bad for business and even dangerous.

If the athlete-activists do retreat into silence, it would be a tragic mistake. Now more than ever, players who wore the slogan “I Can’t Breathe” a week ago should wear it today. In fact, trying to find your breath when police and media are declaring war against a peaceful movement could not be more critical.

For players to say that standing with the families of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and others would now be “inappropriate” is a concession to political actors who are maliciously reframing why they stepped up in the first place. The senseless murder of two police officers by a suicidal lone gunman with a history of mental illness in no way negates the single most important organizing principle of the movement: that Black lives matter.

Those like Rudy Giuliani, George Pataki and their ilk, who are equating this movement with violence and murder, have never given a damn about opposing police brutality. Instead, they see themselves as foot soldiers in a bigger project of chilling, burying or even criminalizing all criticism of anyone who wears a badge.

If the athlete-activists do retreat into silence, it would be a tragic mistake. Now more than ever, players who wore the slogan “I Can’t Breathe” a week ago should wear it today. In fact, trying to find your breath when police and media are declaring war against a peaceful movement could not be more critical.

The entire focus of everyone involved in this movement – from the people in the street to LeBron and Derrick Rose – has been to demand that African-Americans be afforded the same humanity as everyone else: to be treated as people and not “demons” that need to be put down. There is nothing in the slogans “Black Lives Matter” or “I Can’t Breathe” or the marches and die-ins that remotely suggests that projecting violence toward police is a solution to police violence.

After a week of intense protests in Berkeley, the UCB women’s basketball team had planned to stage a protest at the next home game. But then, tweets forward Brittany Boyd, “After today’s events in Berkeley, entire team came 2 my hotel room & said we need to act 2day.” With their coach’s support, they put silver duct tape on the front of their T-shirts and wrote the name of a Black person killed by either police or by lynching. On the back, they wrote “Black lives matter” and “We are Cal WBB.”

After a week of intense protests in Berkeley, the UCB women’s basketball team had planned to stage a protest at the next home game. But then, tweets forward Brittany Boyd, “After today’s events in Berkeley, entire team came 2 my hotel room & said we need to act 2day.” With their coach’s support, they put silver duct tape on the front of their T-shirts and wrote the name of a Black person killed by either police or by lynching. On the back, they wrote “Black lives matter” and “We are Cal WBB.”

In fact, we have seen athletes like the NFL’s Reggie Bush and pro wrestler MVP who have been both part of the movement and have police officers in their immediate family. Given the explicit calls for vengeance by the NYPD and the rush by the media to place the blame for the shooting on people protesting violence, athletes could use their stature to assert that this movement is just.

I am well aware that this is easy as hell for me to say. It’s not my risk. It’s not my paycheck. It’s not my livelihood. But when you lend support to a movement, you bear a responsibility for that movement’s wellbeing. Black lives matter and in fact that needs to be expressed with urgency.

As long-time criminal justice organizer Keeanga Yahmatta-Taylor said to me: “I can hardly imagine the fear coursing through Black New York today. Don’t let your young sons out of the house. This is what we can’t give into – the siege in Black communities to avenge murder in the name of the law.”

It’s easy when management is patting you on the back, thousands are in the street and Fox News is in the corner mumbling to itself. But now the sunshine is gone and the chill is settling in. If LeBron or Derrick Rose – hell, if Nik Stauskas or Jeremy Lin – can turn their spotlight into even a little bit of sunlight, it will make a difference.

If you believed that LeBron, Kenny Britt, Ariyana Smith, the women of Berkeley and so many other athlete activists were on the side of right a week ago, then there is no reason to not believe that they are still right today. Their voices are needed more than ever.

If you believed that LeBron, Kenny Britt, Ariyana Smith, the women of Berkeley and so many other athlete activists were on the side of right a week ago, then there is no reason to not believe that they are still right today. Their voices are needed more than ever.

Dave Zirin is the author of several books, including “The John Carlos Story (Haymarket), and writes a weekly column for The Nation magazine, where this column first appeared. Receive his column every week by emailing dave@edgeofsports.com. Contact him at edgeofsports@gmail.com.

8 thoughts on “Athlete-activists can’t be scared silent after the murder of two NYPD officers

  1. Aristotles

    From the very first day of protest, there have been public calls for the deaths of cops. To claim that there is no connection between months of propaganda and demands, marches and rioting, and the eventual slaying of two police officers is monstrously disingenuous.

    It’s too late. The mobs began with a lie (“Hands up!”) and ended in death. It was never an issue of social justice. The summer has been about nothing more than looting, arson, and the killing of cops.

    It’s over. No one believes the chants. Go home.

    Reply
    1. richard greene

      Just get your reactionary behind out of an African American forum discussing repudiating gang members with badges. No one in their right mind should or will misrepresent a peaceful movement.. this means you, with a deranged truculent life long criminal seeking his fifteen minutes of fame. New York city police officers cannot conduct themselves as hoodlums summarily executing an unarmed men when ever they chose with banned choke holds deemed a homicide by the coroner for selling non taxed cigarettes. Or riddle a man with bullets as they choose handing them his wallet, The credo of operation for the police department is to protect and serve the general public period all citizens of all persuasions pay their salaries. Peace officers are not judge jury and instantaneous executioner, the court system renders length of sentence to severity of crime committed even under brutal extreme Islamic Sharia law the most one would receive for theft would be the loss of said appendage utilized to engage criminality in the United States if your African American or Hispanic you will forfeit your life instantly! It seems to me the New York City Police Chief wants his department to operate akin to a gang with badges never questioned nor answer to anyone for egregious hostile activities in communities of colour.The only amendment of the American constitution they shall follow is the second amendment right of bearing arms and using them with extreme deadly prejudice. The first amendment right of free speech and peaceful assembly they are not particularly fond of. As in the former Nixon administrations concocting enemies list they the police are checking it twice.

      Reply
  2. Asok Smith

    Nothing is more inspirational than enduring a lecture by a filthy rich, multi-multi-millionaire, semi-literate, black jock with a half dozen or more fatherless kids spread around the country explaining how the racist white power structure is keeping the black man down.

    Reply

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