The Privilege of Moving on: Racism Still Alive in Sports

A Letter from the Editor

By SAMANTHA GILBERT & MICHAEL GORMAN

As the MLB season comes to a close and the NBA season starts up, the public conversations surrounding the NFL’s protests during the national anthem have come to a halt. Players are still kneeling, sitting, and putting their fists in the air, but media isn’t covering the matter. Why?

Last block, my colleague and co-writer, Michael F. Gorman, and I were on a Butler Center panel called “Land of the FREE, Home of the BRAVE, Athletics and American Patriotism,” an hour-long dialogue addressing the issues of freedom, sports and race in our country. The other two members of the panel, Feminist and Gender Studies Professor Heidi R. Lewis and Economics Professor Aju Fenn, brought much needed perspectives to the table.

In our last article together, titled “When First Downs Come Before the First Amendment,” Gorman and I addressed the issues of free speech and explored why the emphasis was on the national anthem rather than the issues that led Colin Kaepernick to kneel in the first place. However, the dialogue during the panel painted a clear picture of what it means to be black in America today. After participating in this panel, Gorman and I more deeply understood how ingrained racism is in our society—so much that when black athletes expressed frustration with the treatment of black people in America, white people turned the conversation into whether or not players respected the American flag and then never addressed the true issue at hand.

We’ve stated before that racism, discrimination, and inequality are as present as ever before in this country, but the most concerning and unaddressed issue right now is that black people in this country still do not feel safe. And if you’re a white person disagreeing while reading this, you need to check your privilege.

Two weeks ago, after team owners of the NFL met to address the protests during the anthem, owner of the Houston Texans, Bob McNair, expressed ignorant frustration with the manner in which protests have affected the league. He went on to say, “We can’t have the inmates running the prison.”

As a league that is nearly 70 percent black, this analogy speaks volumes about the ways in which many people view, treat, and think about black people in America. McNair later apologized for his phrasing, but apologies don’t mean much when you’re encouraging systemic racism.

So what can we do? We need to keep the dialogue alive. The conversations regarding patriotism and freedom of speech have come and gone, and that’s because these were never the issues at hand, but rather a distraction from the deeper problem.

So, continue the conversation. Even if you consider yourself aware and empathetic towards these issues, it’s crucial to reexamine the language you use and the space you occupy. Call out your subtly racist uncle. Remind your white friends to stop saying the n-word in their favorite rap songs. Be a compassionate human being. The media may have strayed away from the athletes’ protests of the anthem, but we must not forget that the unjust treatment of black people in America led to these protests in the first place. Keep the conversation alive.

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