The Intersection of Race, Sports and Money: 'Black Lives Matter'

I wondered why pro athletes have not responded with the same outrage to the racial bias and negative stereotypes that have infected their sport.
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This past Sunday was " Black Lives Matter" day and people came together in a show of solidarity and to publicly proclaim that the lives of Blacks, especially the lives of young black men, matter. "Black Lives Matter" Sunday followed weeks of protest in response to the death of Eric Garner , the death of Michael Brown and, the death of a 12-year old Black boy, Tamir Rice, in perhaps the most brazen display by police of unnecessary force.

The incidents prompted prominent professional athletes to step outside of their comfort zone and take a stand. Led by LeBron James and Derrick Rose, pro athletes have been seen wearing warm-ups inscribed with the last words uttered by Eric Garner, "I can't breathe."

I wondered why pro athletes have not responded with the same outrage to the racial bias and negative stereotypes that have infected their sport. I also wondered why professional athletes become "political" only with the shield of general public disgust and outrage to protect their so-called brand.

If "Black Lives Matter" to pro athletes in the context of police killings, I wondered out loud why Black athletes have not (i) challenged the systemic failure in the education of Black athletes and the massive academic fraud committed against them, (ii) taken a stand against the disparity in graduation rates between Black and White athletes that has persisted for decades, (ii) led the charge to respond to attacks on affirmative action considering that Black males represent only 2.8% of undergraduates, but 54.6% of football players and 60.8% of basketball team members at the 76 institutions comprising the six major D-1 conferences, or (iv) let their voices be heard in the face of the systematic exclusion of Black construction professionals from the carnival of arena and stadium construction that is occurring in college and professional sports despite the over-representation by Black athletes on college and professional team rosters.

We cannot place the entire responsibility for fixing the problems facing the Black community on the broad shoulders of our athletic brothers and other high achievers among us, can we? And to be fair, we cannot challenge our athletic brothers and give the rest of us a pass for sitting on the sidelines in the face of less public incidents of racial bias and negative stereotypes.

In my opinion, the biggest challenge facing Blacks in getting the rest of the world to do more than pay lip service to "Black Lives Matter" is the negative stereotypes that we have about each other. I'm talking about stereotypes have nothing to do with White folk, racial bias by the police or rap music.

Whether we readily admit to it or not, too many of us are guilty of self-inflicted stereotypes. We know them all. I was motivated to become a pioneering sports attorney to dispel perhaps the most powerful stereotype we have about each other: that the "White man's ice is colder." While my success and the success my former clients have achieved have helped to dispel the myth, it persists and continues to hamstring our progress.

Another biggie: "Black folk do not write checks" to support Black causes, followed closely by the "crabs in a barrel syndrome?" Why do we continue to pull down or criticize those among us for achieving success? Say what you will about Tavis Smiley and what some call a personal vendetta against President Barack Obama, but the Tavis Smiley Foundation has impacted thousands of Black youngsters, and his media company employs a couple dozen Black folk while remaining headquartered in the heart of Los Angeles.

What about the stereotype (or fact, depending on who you ask) that Black people do not support Black business? We must dispel the stereotype that Blacks talk the talk, but don't walk the walk. We must stop pontificating ad nauseam on Facebook and other social media outlets, at the barbershop and the beauty shop. We must dispel the stereotype our dear late friend, Dr. Myles Munroe spoke of when he proclaimed that "too many of us are among the many who watch things happen or the overwhelming majority who has no notion of what happens". We also need to dispel the stereotype of "Black equals Democrat", and support only those candidates, regardless of party affiliation, who have demonstrated that they are unafraid of attacking the status quo and unwilling to be bought.

In my last post I offered that the fact that there is a statue at San Jose State capturing the iconic moment Tommie Smith and John Carlos staged their protest at the 1968 Olympics, the Muhammad Ali Center (with statue) in Louisville or the Bill Russell statue in Boston's City Hall Plaza as evidence that an athlete will be "blackballed" quicker for losing a step or that burst than publicly supporting a legitimate and just cause.

We have always celebrated "regular" Black folks that have made a difference too. There's a monument for a preacher who took a stand. There's a statue for a man who fought for the rights of Black Pullman porters. There's even a memorial for a former female slave who rose to fight for the rights of Black women.

If economics is truly the "new civil rights movement", and if want to confront the interlocked issues of race and class, then all of us must do more.

We have been given a spirit of power and of a sound mind. If we come together and stick together for our own good, if we dispel the stereotypes we have about each other and stop focusing on our individual differences, then the stereotypes that others have about us will lose their power and/or go away. Quoting Nelson Mandela, "we know what needs to be done. All that is missing is the will to do it."

If we do what we know needs to be done, we'll all be able to breathe. In the process, we'll prove that "Black Lives Matter" to us. Then, and only then, will Black lives truly matter to others.

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