Amid Protests, More Athletes Are Speaking Up About Systemic Racism

 The sports industry has traditionally been viewed as being built purely for entertainment, and in many cases, that perception reigns true to this day. But in the age of social media and the 24-hour news cycle, the platform available for industry giants to voice their opinions on social and political issues has become vast.

After the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers last month, and the emergence of unrelenting nationwide protests, Twitter became plastered in statements in support of the Black Lives Matter movement from athletes, teams, and even the leagues that employ them.

Athletes throughout the Big Four posted statements, each adding to the conversation in a thoughtful way. Washington Capitals player Braden Holtby commended protestors for “bringing pride to every person who believes in the universal value of a human being” and said, “American will never be great until all BLACK lives matter.”

Edmonton Oilers superstar Connor McDavid made comments about white privilege in the primarily white National Hockey League, stating, “I believe that the time is now for all of us to get out of our comfort zones, to not sit idly on the sidelines, and be part of the solution to ensure that we end racism in our society.“

Former NBA player Stephen Jackson, who was also a close friend of Floyd’s, has been outspoken in calling for justice for his murder as well as supporting Floyd’s six-year-old daughter, Gianna. At a news conference last Wednesday, Jackson stated, “Why is it not that simple when we see a video of someone getting murdered? Why is it not that simple, why do we have to see her pain?”

Washington Nationals relief pitcher Sean Doolittle posted a twitter thread, using his platform to spread information about how to help causes within the black community with the preface, “As a white person, racism isn’t something I’ll ever experience. We have a responsibility to listen to black people, to get educated, and to use our white privilege to amplify the black communities’ call for justice.”

Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who began protesting police brutality against African-Americans by kneeling during the national anthem in 2016, also voiced his support for the protests. In a statement, Kaepernick said, “When civility leads to death, revolting is the only logical reaction. The cries for peace will rain down, and when they do, they will land on deaf ears, because your violence has brought this resistance.” 

After igniting a fierce debate within the NFL on his refusal to stand during the national anthem, Kaepernick did not have his contract with the 49ers renewed and became a free agent in 2017. Others like Akim Aliu stood up against teammates and coaches who had called him racial slurs or harassed him, such as an incident in 2011 when a Colorado Eagles staffer dressed in blackface as Aliu at a Halloween party. In response to the recent racial unrest, Aliu wrote a Players Tribune article addressing racism and inclusion in the hockey community. 

Meanwhile, Kendall Coyne Schofield, a member of the U.S. women’s hockey team, was one of the many who initially criticized Kaepernick for kneeling during the national anthem. In the wake of Floyd’s death and the subsequent protests, Coyne apologized and said in part “I reacted to WHAT he was doing instead of WHY. Then I listened and learned.”

Another NFL quarterback, Drew Brees, of the New Orleans Saints, criticized Kaepernick for his protests nearly four years ago, saying that “I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country.” His words didn’t sit well with his teammates, including Malcolm Jenkins, who said, “If you don’t understand how insensitive and hurtful your comments are, then you are part of the problem.” On Thursday, Brees apologized for his remarks and said, “I would like to apologize to my friends, teammates, the City of New Orleans, the black community, NFL community, and anyone I hurt with my comments yesterday.” 

In addition to the players, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell also acknowledged on Friday that the league was wrong in its treatment of Kaepernick. “We, the NFL, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest.” This acknowledgment has caused the public to push for an official league apology, which comes after an out of court settlement in February 2019 between Kaepernick and the league over alleged collusion to keep him out of the league and from playing any games.

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