Last updated on January 26, 2021
Men’s basketball has been in the Bubble and fittingly (I guess) the women are in the Wubble. Baseball is playing before packed houses of canned noise and football began in earnest yesterday, before empty seats of orange, blue, and green. Boxing and professional wrestling (if you consider that a sport) is beaming in computer-generated screaming fans in the stands. Last Thursday night was the actual opening day for the National Football League. The defending World Champion Kansas City Chiefs opened with a victory over the Houston Texans. Part of the allure to both fan and non-fan was what the players would do to recognize the push for racial equity.
Kneeling upsets fly-over country, protest causes people to stand in front of their homes with guns, and speaking out gets responses like “shut up and dribble.” So the players tried something new, they stood, locked arms in unity, and the reaction was a significant number of the Kansas City fans booed this quiet demonstration of player solidarity. Afterward, they took their seats and proceeded to yell out a mock “Indian war chant” because of course…
the irony missed them completely
It is hard to hear ‘get race and politics out of sports’ when whites have used athletics as the crown jewel of white superiority since Jim Jeffries, at the time the symbol of white physicality. Black boxer Jack Johnson had won what was called the “colored” Heavyweight Championship in 1903 and called out Jeffries, after beating Tommy Burns for “The” championship. Jeffries previously refused to meet Johnson in the ring. Johnson subsequently beat Jeffries and his prowess, in an out of the ring, beckoned the era of the Great White Hope to restore the prestige of the white race. All my life I have wondered how baseball reveres records that excluded a significant portion of the population’s participation. As much as the world has had a love/hate relationship with Tiger Woods, the first black Master’s Golf Tournament participant was not until 1975, Lee Elder. Basketball is dominated by black athletes yet there was a quota of two black players per team when the NBA integrated in 1950. 1950–that sounds like basketball moved ahead quickly with integration—until you remember basketball was invented in 1891, and pro leagues existed before the NBA.
The game of golf, by most accounts, was invented in Scotland in the 12th century, yet golfer Charlie Sifford was the first black to play a PGA tournament in 1967. While Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig were powering the New York Yankees and smashing records in the 1920s and 30s, Jackie Robinson a four-sport all-American athlete at UCLA and a Second Lieutenant in the Army was awaiting his turn to swing his way into history in 1947. Mr. Sifford was threatened with death as was Mr. Robinson, not because they double-bogeyed or struck out but because they struck back.
Not since John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised gloved hands at the 1968 Olympics have black athletes controlled the politics of sports to such a degree. Blacks in America were told no resistance, be good, and your turn will come. I thought of something yesterday, maybe because it was Sunday. People have peacefully knelt on Sundays for heavenly intervention, praying, hoping, and pleading for better times. Colin Kaepernick knelt and all hell broke loose.
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