Taking a stand

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Since the awful events of last week, including the murders in Dallas Thursday night of five police officers who were on duty at a peaceful demonstration of Black Lives Matter, there has been a welcome uptick in athletes speaking out about where we are as a society and where we should be. Whether or not athletes express themselves publicly on controversial and difficult social issues is, one might argue, not the most important thing to focus on in such unsettling times. But superstar black athletes are among the very most prominent black citizens in our country, with unusual platforms and, in many cases, unusual backgrounds among those Americans who have become fabulously wealthy and famous. In other words, they have a platform that is, in important respects, unmatched, particularly among younger black men.

So, it’s more than a curiosity to wonder whether they are speaking out. Dave Zirin has identified six athletes who lent public support to Black Lives Matter this past week, including Serena Williams and Carmelo Anthony. ‘Melo has been especially outspoken, calling on fellow members of the USA basketball team to use the leverage of the upcoming Olympics to speak clearly and forthrightly about the violence. In first calling on other athletes to action, ‘Melo wrote last week:

“There’s NO more sitting back and being afraid of tackling and addressing political issues anymore. Those days are long gone. We have to step up and take charge. We can’t worry about what endorsements we gonna lose or whose [sic] going to look at us crazy. I need your voices to be heard. We can demand change. We just have to be willing to. THE TIME IS NOW. IM all in. Take Charge. Take Action. DEMAND CHANGE.”

Slam Magazine has the full statement, here. In it, ‘Melo expresses frustration with marches. He also expressly condemns the murders of the Dallas police officers. As slam notes, Anthony has been vocal before, including at the time of the killing of Freddie Gray in police custody in Baltimore, ‘Melo’s hometown.

I’ve spent my fair share of time pissing and moaning about how Anthony is overrated, takes too many shots and is overpaid by my very bad basketball team. I am sure I will continue to complain about such matters in the future. But when we talk seriously about character and role models (and yes, I am well aware that ‘Melo has had past run-ins with the law, though as best as I can tell, there have been no such encounters in the past eight years), ‘Melo is an admirable one.

*By the way, I know other people have ably dismantled the idiocy of the criticisms of the name, Black Lives Matter. It should be bloody obvious that the name, as this law professor so eloquently puts it, implies a focus, not an exclusion. That there is an implicit, “too” or “also” in the name.

As this prof. elaborates:

If something matters, this does not imply that nothing else does. If I say ‘Law Students Matter’ it does not imply that my colleagues, friends, and family do not. Here is something that matters: context. The Black Lives Matter movement arose in a context of evidence that they don’t. When people are receiving messages from a culture in which they live that their lives are less important than other lives, it is a cruel distortion of reality to scold them for not being inclusive enough…

Such elementary (and typically willful) distortions are an important part of the reason why – as the surely now outdated saying goes – we can’t have nice things.

 

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