I am gratified to hear American athletes like LeBron James and Kobe Bryant speaking in strong opposition to Trump’s racism, or denial of racism, or endless dog-whistling to pit white and black Americans against each other.
I’m gratified but not convinced of its efficacy. Here’s why.
At the beginning of the 2016-17 NBA season, the league comprised 43 white American players. Other white players were European. In total that’s about 10% of the NBA.
At present about 70% of the NFL is black, including of course Colin Kaepernick who began the current protest movement about a year ago and has since been blackballed by the league.
The other major sports have a different composition: hockey is primarily white. Baseball is an unbalanced mixture, roughly 8% black, 27% Latino, 3% Asian, and the rest white American.
We’ll leave out baseball, hockey, and a few other sports for the moment, since this weekend’s tweeting battle between our amateur president and professional athletes centered primarily on the NBA and NFL players and, to his credit, on Roger Goodell who is white but openly confronted Trump’s divisiveness and “lack of respect.” (Of course his comments must be measured against the NFL owners—many of whom are ardent Trump supporters who seem unwilling to end their vendetta against Kaepernick.)
So we have two leagues composed primarily of black players and claiming, in essence, that black lives matter. Black Americans already know that—it’s the white Americans, specifically the racists and bigots newly empowered by their new führer, that need to be educated; and for that we need white athletes to step up en masse.
I’m not saying the NBA cannot effect change, and there are some black baseball players with enough cachet to help. Some of the best of them currently play in Boston, but even if you count the retired David Ortiz, they play on the East Coast: the coasts are not the problem. So yes, I’m gratified by the NFL and NBA reactions to Trump, by their willingness to use their celebrity to call him out and expose him for what he is, but I want to see more effort from white players—maybe witness entire teams taking a stand not necessarily against the president, but against a pervasive racism that we can no longer countenance or deny. I want to hear from Mike Trout, Clayton Kershaw, Chris Sale, Bryce Harper, Kris Bryant, etc. So far baseball seems to have been represented by Curt Schilling, and nobody seems willing to stick a sock, bloody or otherwise, into his mouth.
And now that Patriots owner Robert Kraft, an ardent Trump supporter, has shockingly spoken out, how about Matt Ryan, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Eli Manning? Would one of these team leaders be willing to take a knee other than at the end of the game?
If I’m not asking too much, can the PGA and the LPGA promise to boycott Trump golf courses forever? And can the USTA and WTA decry the racist antics of the president and keep away from resorts that sponsor any tennis activities. (Would this image convince you?) The current U.S. Open champion is a woman of color, while at the same time former USTA mainstay James Blake, a black man, wages a suit against the NYPD and a plainclothes cop who tackled him outside a hotel a year ago.
Sports has seldom inoculated its participants against bias and bigotry, but it may serve as a conduit to better awareness and greater understanding, this despite the president’s blatant efforts to foment racial discord. But the involvement must cross racial lines and become an American protest. Only then will people like Trump, Jeff Sessions, and Stephen Miller be relegated to their rightful place on the ash heap of our country’s racial history.