By DREW WILLIAMS
Sports are a funny thing.
They have the ability to define cultures, societies, cities and people. They can unite people of all races, nationalities, genders and ages.
They provide a way of escape for people. A way to shut out everyday life for a few hours at a time.
Ask the city of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. A community ravaged by nature’s cruelty temporarily shut out catastrophe, thanks to a blocked punt, courtesy of Steve Gleason.
Take a look at the city of Houston after Hurricane Harvey. A community that took a break from turmoil and joined hands at the Houston Texans home opener.
Sports are a harbor from the relentless storm of our world. A line drawn in the sand to hold reality at bay.
But what happens when that line becomes blurred?
Our current sports landscape has seen an influx of athletes kneeling during the National Anthem ever since then 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was the architect of the recent trend. Since Kaepernick’s initial kneeling to protest police brutality of African Americans, players all around the sports world have joined in the protest for racial equality.
This protest was met with mix feelings from those in the sports community and those out of it as well. Some felt that Kaepernick’s message for racial equality was valid but the methodology was not.
Politics and sports have become intertwined in a circle the likes that has not been seen in quite some time.
Since the events of Kaepernick’s protest, other players including safety Malcolm Jenkins, women’s soccer midfielder Megan Rapinoe and defensive end Michael Bennett have all joined in the quest for equality. Players and teams have also been weighing whether or not to attend the White House, as is the custom for championship winners.
But the political landscape picked up in the sports world even more so over this weekend.
President Trump addressed his opinion at an Alabama rally on the kneeling protestors on Friday.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say: ‘Get that son of a b— off the field right now, out,” Trump said. “He’s fired. He’s fired!”
In a series of tweets that followed, Trump expressed his displeasure surrounding the protests.
If NFL fans refuse to go to games until players stop disrespecting our Flag & Country, you will see change take place fast. Fire or suspend!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 24, 2017
Trump later continued with his tweets after Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry tweeted about the team attending the White House. Trump responded with a revocation of the invitation to the White House.
Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team.Stephen Curry is hesitating,therefore invitation is withdrawn!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 23, 2017
The sports world erupted in a flurry of statements and demonstrations by players throughout the weekend. Teams including the Pittsburgh Steelers, Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans decided to stay in the locker room during the playing of the National Anthem, while other teams took knees and linked arms.
Responses were just as mixed as the original case involving Kaepernick. Twitter has the #takeaknee present throughout its walls, while those opposed could easily be found as well.
More players have joined together to do battle with Trump over his recent comments surrounding the sports community. Fans are now being put in a world where sports are no longer synonymous with escapism of reality.
Choice in this issue is becoming almost a requirement one way or the other. Players want one of the most basic human rights, equality.
Sports provide the platform for empowered athletes to stand up for social activism in their communities.
Gone are the days of the Michael Jordan’s who were soft spoken in the face of activism. In today’s climate even Jordan now is entering the fold of athletes speaking out.
Enter the modern age and world of LeBron James, who has voiced his displeasure with the current administration in the White House.
Winston Churchill once said, “courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”
Players are now not afraid to voice their opinions on the world’s biggest stage. Just as the players held their arms together, they stand united in the quest for equality.
This is not a case of protesting America or the American flag but a case of protesting the principles of inequality, bigotry and exclusion.
Use Oakland A’s rookie catcher Bruce Maxwell as the latest example. Maxwell is the first player to take a knee in baseball, a product of Huntsville, Ala., while also part of a military family.
Maxwell said he has been considering this action for a while and his reasoning works in harmony with his beliefs.
“The point of my kneeling was not to disrespect our military or our constitution or our country,” Maxwell said. “My hand was over my heart because I love this country and I have family members, including my father, who bled for this country, and who continue to serve. At the end of the day, this is the best country on the planet. I am and forever will be an American citizen and grateful to be here, but my kneeling is what’s getting the attention, and I’m kneeling for the people who don’t have a voice.
“This goes beyond the black and Hispanic communities because right now we have a racial divide that’s being practiced from the highest power we have in this country saying it’s basically OK to treat people differently. I’m kneeling for a cause but I’m in no way disrespecting my country or my flag.”
These protests will not be going anywhere anytime soon either. Maxwell has indicated he plans to continue his protests through the rest of the season.
Fans are noticeably divided on this issue, but the message must not be lost. With racial tension continuing to increase since the election of President Trump, even more so after the events that took place in Charlottesville, athletes have reached a point where equality takes more precedence than the actions on the field.
We are at a turbulent time politically and socially, but “sticking to sports” is discussing these protests and political circumstances surrounding sports elements. Sticking to sports takes on new meaning when our sports climate is superseded by human rights.
The U.S. stands for people’s rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. For these players are drawing attention for people of different races, ethnicities and sexualities.
Echo chambers are a powerful thing where people are not willing to listen, but this is a time for conversation. If the refusal to stand for the national anthem is what is required to start the conversation, so be it.
Dialogue is what is needed to enact change in this country.
Let us not get lost in the fact of people not standing for the National Anthem. Let us inquire as to the sociological reasons for these athletes doing the things they do.
Athletes of esteem and notoriety are willing to stand up and voice their opinions for change at the risk of their careers. Is it too much for us to take our hands off our ears and listen?
Now’s the time for action and change in this country. Sports are just the first piece of a larger puzzle in this world.
We can no longer ignore the inequality in our country. This is just the beginning for these athletes.
If Trump will continue to challenge these leagues, owners, coaches and players they have shown they will become a unifying force for justice and equal rights.
Our first step for equality is the conversation. Next, as Churchill said, is to sit down and listen.
The real question is, will we?