Since George Floyd’s death at the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, a usually callous sports world has (for the most part) come to realize that things must change in America.
Comments from players coaches and commissioners have been coming by the score. Some are heartfelt. Some are suspect. But surprisingly, there seems to be consensus that – maybe for the first time in history – black athletes are black people.
Racism is the one thing that can cook the golden goose. Finally, it seems a majority of powerful, white sports figures have come to realize this. If this feeling of uneasiness lasts only a few months, weeks or days, it should be recognized as a watershed moment.
As usual, black players from the NBA and NFL led to charge to recognize the atrocity that occurred in Minneapolis. White players and coaches suddenly are not afraid to speak out.
What was missing were the voices of white coaches and administrators from the major college ranks.
We can thank North Carolina Central University basketball coach LeVelle Morton for challenging Power 5 coaches to speak up.
A week had passed after Floyd’s death when told ESPN, “The reality is a lot of these coaches have been able to create generational wealth. Their grandkids’ kids are gonna be able to live a prosperous life because athletes who were the complexion of George Floyd were able to run a football, throw a football, shoot a basketball or whatever have you, so they have been able to benefit from athletes that look like George Floyd and many more.”
“But whenever people (who are) the complexion of George Floyd are killed, assassinated, murdered in the street in broad daylight, they’re silent.”
Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo got the message and released a statement the next day.
“I can’t stay silent. We must stand together for human rights and against racism,” Izzo wrote.
“As a white American basketball coach who has been trusted and accepted into African American homes across our country, the racism and injustice I’ve witnessed has sickened my soul.”
Izzo’s statement somewhat cleared a path for other coaches to speak out – that and the fear of losing black recruits if they remained silent.
The most powerful college coach in America, Nick Saban of Alabama, dared to add the names of other black people’s lives that were ended in horrific ways at the hands of whites in a statement released last Sunday.
“I am shocked and angered by the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery,” Saban said.
“We’re at an important moment for our country, and now is the time for us to choose kindness, tolerance, understanding, empathy, and most importantly ... it’s time to love each other. Every life is precious, and we must understand we have so many more things that unite us than divide us.”
Saban also shared a late Dr. Martin Luther King quote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied to a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
Oklahoma football coach Lincoln Riley said on Twitter, “I ALWAYS stand with my players and I am thankful that I was raised in a home that taught me that no human, regardless of race, religion, or any other factor ... should ever be treated differently ... we have a long ways to go as a society – I am committed to being a part of the change.”
Mike Gundy of Oklahoma State also was poignant in a press release.
“I can’t stop thinking about the horrible situation that happened in Minneapolis. I’ve been at a loss for words to describe the shocking video of George Floyd,” he wrote.
“My heart and prayers go out to his family. This disgraceful event means we must work harder together every day to put an end to the mistreatment of black Americans in our country.”
Minnesota football coach P.J. Fleck, whose team plays in Minneapolis, said “It’s unfortunate and sad, and it hurts my heart and breaks my soul, that it’s happened in a city that I’m so fond and love so much and become so fond of.
“But if it can happen here, it can happen anywhere. And I think that’s what everybody’s seeing around the country now – is that everyone’s hurting and everyone’s going through this, and it’s not just isolated to one city; that this can happen anywhere in our country. And that is the issue.”
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who runs what I think is the most progressive professional sports league in the world, grasps the magnitude of what is happening in America and what must change.
“Just as we are fighting a pandemic, which is impacting communities and people of color more than anyone else, we are being reminded that there are wounds in our country that have never healed,” he said.
“Racism, police brutality and racial injustice remain part of everyday life in America and cannot be ignored. At the same time, those who serve and protect our communities honorably and heroically are again left to answer for those who don’t.
“This moment also requires greater introspection from those of us, including me, who may never know the full pain and fear many of our colleagues and players experience every day. We have to reach out, listen to each other and work together to be part of the solution.”
Michael Jordan, maybe the most self-centered, non-caring player in the history of the NBA, even felt compelled to decry racism. This might be the first time in his life he put someone else’s concerns before his own.
“I am deeply saddened, truly pained and plain angry. I see and feel everyone’s pain, outrage and frustration. I stand with those who are calling out the ingrained racism and violence toward people of color in our country. We have had enough.
“I don’t have the answers, but our collective voices show strength and the inability to be divided by others. We must listen to each other, show compassion and empathy and never turn our backs on senseless brutality. We need to continue peaceful expressions against injustice and demand accountability.
“Our unified voice needs to put pressure on our leaders to change our laws, or else we need to use our vote to create systemic change. Every one of us needs to be part of the solution, and we must work together to ensure justice for all.”
I’m sorry, but I can’t help but remember that these words are coming from the same guy who didn’t lift a finger or raise his voice to help a black Democrat taking on avowed racist Jesse Helms during a Senatorial race in the 90s.
Lastly, I want to mention Joe Burrow.
The young man led LSU to the national championship, won the Heisman Trophy and was selected overall No. 1 in the NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals. He will start at quarterback next year and the spotlight on him will be blinding. The last thing he needs is controversy. But he was among the first white NFL players to share his thoughts on Floyd’s death and the fate of America.
“The black community needs our help. They have been unheard for far too long. Open your ears, listen, and speak. This isn’t politics. This is human rights,” he said
The Reid Roundup
Colin Kaepernick, who the NFL blackballed for his kneeling during the national anthem in opposition to police brutality and racism, said on Twitter that America is reaping what it has sown. “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. We have the right to fight back! Rest in Power George Floyd.”...Richard Sherman, San Francisco 49ers cornerback and Stanford graduate, said on Twitter, “My profession nor my education change the fact that I’m a black man in America and to that end I will continue to fight for equality for the ppl that are treated unjust in the country. And if that offends you or makes you uncomfortable then maybe we are starting to make progress.” … During my sophomore year of high school, I took a sports sociology class. One assignment had us contact a professional sports team to acquire a media guide and other information on the team and write a report. I chose the Washington Bullets. The team sent me that media guide and tons of other information. Included was a Wes Unseld autograph. Unseld, who was Earl Austin’s uncle, died this week at the age of 74.
Alvin A. Reid was honored as the 2017 “Best Sports Columnist – Weeklies” in the Missouri Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest and is a New York Times contributor. He is a panelist on the Nine Network program, Donnybrook, a weekly contributor to “The Charlie Tuna Show” on KFNS and appears monthly on “The Dave Glover Show” on 97.1 Talk. His Twitter handle is @aareid1.