Taking the Next Knee Is this Athletic Revolt For Real and Is It a Danger to Donald Trump?

tags: racism, sports, Black lives matter, Donald Trump, Protest

Robert Lipsyte, a TomDispatch regular, was a sports and city columnist for the New York Times. He is the author, among other works, of SportsWorld: An American Dreamland.

Take the Money or March?

One of the most poignant expressions of that search came from the coach of the Los Angeles Clippers, Doc Rivers, whose father had been a police officer. “It’s amazing,” he commented, “why we keep loving this country, and this country does not love us back. It’s really so sad... I’m so often reminded of my color... We got to do better. But we got to demand better.”

What exactly does “demand better” mean and what could it achieve? In the sports world, at least, with the possible exception of those still-must-be-seen-to-be-believed arena voting sites, the sporadic protests of various players over the years for equality and social justice have usually resulted, at best, in yet more discussion about the issues they were raising rather than actual solutions, however provisional. Although over the decades, the integration of baseball, the introduction of free agency, and the emergence of the Black quarterback could all certainly be viewed as progress in the sports world itself.

Today, however, it remains a question whether players will continue pushing for social reform or, as so often in the past, settle for better salaries and pensions. As Iguodala put it:

“Historically, money determines a lot of our actions. Do we stand up for something or take the money? We will always get caught in those crosshairs. But I think players are smartening up, and I think that will come into play with a lot of guys.”

Similar optimism has been expressed recently by a number of sporting icons including Hall of Fame basketball player Kareem Abdul Jabbar who began his career with the Milwaukee Bucks. He found hope in “the instantaneous support of other sports teams and athletes,” especially ones from Major League Soccer (only 26% black), Major League Baseball (8%), and overwhelmingly white pro tennis.

Times, Jabbar believes, may indeed be changing. After all, he remembers that “when I boycotted the 1968 Olympics because of the gross racial inequities, I was met with a vicious backlash criticizing my lack of gratitude for being invited into the air-conditioned Big House where I could comfortably watch my community swelter and suffer.”

Another long-time sports activist, retired sociology professor Harry Edwards who was instrumental in inspiring the memorable Black power salute given from the medal stand at the 1968 Mexico Olympics by American track stars Tommie Smith and John Carlos, is similarly hopeful. An adviser to Kaepernick, Edwards sees an opening for genuine change in this moment because, he says, it’s no longer just about the acts of individual sports figures. This wave of protest, he adds, “is distinctively different from the single athletes who were involved. These are entire teams that are reacting to this situation and leveraging their power to demand change. It’s not just a Colin Kaepernick or Eric Reid or Michael Bennett or Maya Moore. This one is about an entire organization and I could see this coming from the time the University of Missouri football team protested.”

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