Black Lives Matter Movement and Sports
Will there be actual change this time around? Since the senseless killing of George Floyd, there have been protests all over the world. Is this the time for change that Blacks have been waiting for over 400 years?
On May 25, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, George Floyd, a black man, was murdered after being arrested when a deli employee accused him of buying cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill. 17 minutes after police arrived Floyd was unconscious and pinned under head officer Derek Chauvin. Chauvin had his knee on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds! Floyd begged and pleaded for his life while the officers just watched as he died. During the encounter, Floyd tearfully called out “MAMA” and also yelled something that was all too familiar, “I Can’t Breathe!” and “Ya’ll gon Kill me!” It was later revealed that his mother has since passed away. Three other officers, Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tuo Thao, stood by and held his legs while Chauvin was on his neck. Kueng held onto Floyd’s back while Lane restrained his legs and Thao stood watch. One officer even said “You’re talking fine.” Lane asked if they should roll him on his side, Chauvin responded,”Staying put where we got him.” He then realized that Floyd had stopped moving and breathing and asked again “Want to roll him on his side?” Kueng went to check his pulse and said “I couldn’t find one.” And they finally decided to call 911. In the video you can see Chauvin never got off his neck until the ambulance arrived and when they did, they dragged him on the ground instead of properly lifting him. The video hit the internet and sent the world in an uproar! NOT AGAIN!
All 50 states have held protest since George’s Floyd’s death and they are not showing any signs of letting up. Other countries have participated as well such as Britain, Germany, France, Denmark, Italy, Syria, Brazil, Mexico, Ireland, New Zealand, Canda, Poland, Australia and London. One thing the media has decided to focus on more than anything is the looting and continues to call the protest riots. Yes, in some states, people were seen burning down buildings and crashing into stores and stealing. But as the late great Martin Luther King Jr. said “A riot is the language of the unheard.” In the middle of a global and economic pandemic, people were fighting just to have equal rights and somehow the narrative shifted. Police officers were seen beating peaceful protesters in the street, shooting them with rubber bullets and in some cases permanently blinding people, they even killed an innocent black man who was known for feeding the police department FOR FREE! The country has been in complete uproar. But the protest and the burning of things got the attention of people it needed. Many cities have decided to take down confederate statues and to start defunding the police and putting the money in places that need it such as the inner city and paying teachers more money. Minneapolis Public Schools terminated their contract with the Police Department, the LAPD will reinvest $150 million into communities of color, and a bill was passed in Breonna Taylor’s name to make the no-knock rule illegal for police officers but her killers have yet to be charged. Also since the protest, Derek Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter,he was originally charged with third-degree murder. Lane, Kueng and Thao have been charged with aiding and abetting,second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. NONE of them were charged until the protest!
The Sports world immediately responded. And the league that was on the front lines the most, the NBA. Stephen Jackson, a former NBA player, grew up with Floyd in Houston and is seemingly very close to his family. He was awakened from a nap to see the video but didn’t recognize Floyd at first. He has vowed to take care of Floyd’s youngest daughter, Gianna and make sure she doesn’t want or need for anything. Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics forward, traveled 15 hours from Boston to his hometown of Atlanta to participate in protest. Russell Westbrook, Houston Rockets guard, will executive produce a documentary series about the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. He will collaborate with documentary filmmaker Stanley Nelson and the production company Blackfin. In a statement to ESPN, “When I learned about the heartbreaking events that happened in Tulsa nearly 100 years ago, I knew this was a story I wanted to tell. It’s upsetting that the atrocities that transpired then, are still so relevant today. It’s important we uncover the buried stories of African American Americans in this country. We must amplify them now more than ever if we want to create change moving forward.” He has also been seen protesting. LeBon James is currently forming a voting rights group with other athletes/ entertainers including Skylar Diggins-SMith (WNBA player), Trae Young (Atlanta Hawks) and Jaylen Rose (former NBA player and sports commentator). The organization is called More than a Vote. It will partly be aimed at inspiring Blacks to register to vote and cast a ballot in November. Damian Lillard, from the Portland Trailblazers, released a song about racism entitled Blacklist. A verse from the song,”As a rich black man living in the country, it’s hard being comfy. When the hate yo people get is coming from the ones amongst me. Used to call us monkeys, and slaves until we overcome, still our work just beginning, protest look like parades.”
NASCAR banned Confederate flags from ALL events, races and properties. In a statement said the flag “runs contrary to our commitment to providing a welcoming environment for all fans, our competitors and our industry” Driver Ray Ciccarelli announced that he was quitting after the ban. He released a statement via his wife, “I don’t believe in kneeling during the anthem nor taken [sic] people not to fly whatever flag they love. I could care less about the Confederate Flag but there are people that do and it doesn’t make them a racist all you are doing is f**king one group to cater to another and I ain’t spend the money we are participate in any political BS!” Ciccarelli has zero wins in three years. Bubba Wallace, NASCAR’s only black full-time driver, was the one who called for the banning of the Confederate flag and two days later they did. He appeared on CNN and said “ No one should uncomfortable when they come to a NASCAR race. So it starts with Confederate flags. Get them outta here!” Hours after the announcement, Johnson raced at Martinsville Speedway in VA in all black car dedicated to Black Lives Matter and pulled off his best finish ever.
The NFL which has had its share of controversy over the years especially pertaining to race, have decided to recognize Juneteenth as a holiday, offices will be closed. Commissioner Roger Gooddell released an apology and says the league was wrong for not listening to players earlier about racism. In a video statement, “We the National Football League condemns racism and the systematic oppression of black people. We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest.” Notably left out in his video statement was former Quarterback, Colin Kapernick, who peacefully protested and was shunned out of the league not long after. Many called for Goodell to make a public apology to the QB. In comes New Orleans Saints QB, Drew Brees made a statement that later went left. In a interview with Yahoo, he was asked as a leader what his responsibility is and what the next steps are for the league. He responded, “I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America of our country.” He even stated that his father and grandfather fought for this country. It sent an uproar throughout sports and many called him out including teammates. Micahel Thomas, wide receiver for the Saints, said “He don’t know any better.” Marques Colston, also a wide receiver for the Saints said,” Drew, I had a ton of respect for you as a teammate on the field. But as a man, a black man, and a father your comments today have cut deep. Not because you have an opinion or perspective but because it continues to be dismissive and insensitive to others.” Richard Sherman, cornerback for San Francisco 49ers, responded as well,”He’s beyond lost. Guarantee you there were balck men fighting alongside your grandfather but this doesn’t seem to be abou that. That uncomfortable conversation you are trying to avoid by injecting militar into a conversation about brutality and equality is part of the problem.” Brees has since made several apologies and vowed to do less talking and more listening. He also stood up to Trump when he said he should’ve stood his ground on his initial opinion.
Nike also declared Juneteenth an annual paid holiday for the company. They released a powerful video with words that read, “For once, Don’t do it. Don’t pretend there’s not a problem in America. Don’t think this doesn’t affect you. Don’t sit back and be silent. Don’t think you can’t be part of the change. Let’s all be part of the change.”
Addias said that 30% of new hires would be black or Latino. They also pledged to fund 50 university scholarships a year for black students for the next five years. The company would expand funding for programs that address racial disparities to $120 million over the next five years. They released a statement, “We’ve celebrated athletes and artists in the Black community and used their image to define ourselves culturally as a brand but missed the message in reflecting such little representation within our walls.”
Many companies have vowed to take part in the Black Lives Matter and to have conversations of inclusion of black people. While the momentum is high, it will be interesting to see if the leagues, athletes, and companies will stand by their word.