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Sports making necessary trouble

If 2020 was a movie, I would have walked out months ago. From COVID-19 that continues to hammer our communities to social horrors to powerful voices (including congressman, John Lewis, to whom I nod above) silenced too soon, this year would be headed straight for TV reruns.

There’s hope, though. Among other things, sports are showing us glimpses of better tomorrows.

The sports-society relationship has existed since the beginning of time, despite some who want athletes to essentially shut up and dribble. The thrills of victory and agonies of defeat; teamwork; sportsmanship — sports are embedded in our lives from fields to meeting rooms.

Led by the Milwaukee Bucks, who abruptly but with great thought, backed out of an NBA playoff game to bring attention to another brutal attack on a Black man by a police officer, the remaining teams in the NBA Orlando “bubble” as well as other sports paused last week to reexamine their communities and their roles in them. The National Basketball League, for the most part, has been more forward regarding social injustices than other professional sports leagues. The National Football League, for one, has been slow to respond, even though former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started the modern-day fight against horrors at the hands of people entrusted to uphold the law, and lost his job as a result.

So when Green Bay Packers president Mark Murphy released a statement on the team’s website and outlined his team’s commitment to fight racial injustice and police brutality, it stopped me in my tracks. It’s not that Green Bay hasn’t been here before. Legendary coach Vince Lombardi famously led the NFL in not just signing Black and Brown players to the Packers before and more than most teams, but ensured they were treated equally to their white teammates. “If you discriminate against my Black players, your business is off limits to the entire team,” he said.

See Murphy’s statement —

Black players make up the majority of NBA and NFL rosters and they are too familiar with the same racial profiling and violence their neighbors face. Many have been stopped by police while walking in their communities, kept from entering their own homes or questioned about the cars they rightfully own while a white man with a semi-automatic rifle can strut down the street untouched. When Black athletes see someone like Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis., and George Floyd in Minneapolis pumped with bullets without cause, they see their sons, uncles, fathers — they see themselves. The NFL, in particular, continues to be targeted by the President of the United States and in past years, most owners, many who supported him, capitulated. That doesn’t sit well with athletes of the day.

That’s why Murphy’s call for others in the NFL, notably owners, sponsors and community leaders, to join the Packers fight for “basic human rights” struck a more-hopeful-than-I-was-before chord.

The Baltimore Ravens put out a statement with actionable notes, and other team leaders have said they support their players, but I haven’t seen owners sit in front of a camera and call upon their peers, business and community partners to advocate for racial equality. Murphy, president of the only community-owned professional sports franchise, speaks as the de facto Packers owner.

“Sports has a long history of speaking out for positive change,” Murphy said in the video.

From NBA teams working with community leaders and moving mountains to educate citizens about the value of voting, to Murphy’s message and vow to help fund resources to make law enforcement accountable, I feel like 2020, despite its nasty, ugly warts, will also be a year when sports spurs positive change. Actions will speak loudest and I gratefully can see and hear a few of those already.


©Gail Sideman; 2020

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