From CK to LeBron our successful athletes are expected to stay in the sunken place when it comes to politics.
“I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” Those are the words of the great James Baldwin, in his timeless classic, Notes of a Native Son. It is with these words that I begin unpacking the two major stories of the week and their intersection.
On Wednesday afternoon, domestic terrorist Nikolas Cruz opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., killing 17 people and wounding many more. Cruz was arrested in possession of a semiautomatic AR-15 rifle, and several magazines. Since the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., there have been at least 239 school shootings nationwide. In those episodes, 438 people were shot, 138 of whom were killed. Yet nothing has been done about restricting access to guns in this country. Naturally, politicians turned this into a political issue. Tweets with hollow and empty “thoughts and prayers” and well wishes for those affected. Meanwhile no actionable steps to actually create legislation to limit access to these weapons. This is not a political issue, this is a human welfare and safety issue. If you are a citizen and actually concerned for the well-being of your fellow man, woman, child, etc. limiting, and in many cases, restricting access to guns should be something you are pushing for.
TWEETS FROM POLITICIANS AND PUNDITS
On Thursday afternoon/early evening, video surfaced of NBA stars LeBron Jamesand Kevin Durant along with ESPN’s Cari Champion discussing Donald Trump. James and Durant were highly critical of Trump and that video drew the ire of Fox News television host Laura Ingraham. The conservative pundit closed her show with a monologue steeped in all the dog whistles about race and athlete intelligence. She essentially told James and Durant to “stick to sports” because of course, they are not qualified to do anything else. What gives Ingraham the right to dismiss the opinions of James and Durant? Particularly when she works for a network that consistently brings on non-politicians (read: athletes/entertainers that promote the Fox agenda) to espouse their political views on the airwaves.
LAURA INGRAHAM CLOSING MONOLOGUE
These two seemingly unrelated events bring to mind, the issue of governance and who has the right to criticize America? Being critical of our elected leaders and responding to acts of senseless violence, that could have been avoided, with push for legislation are actions every functioning member of a civilized society should engage in. Yet, in America we don’t seem to afford everyone that right.
“Real Americans” love to tout their freedoms and what makes America the best nation on earth. Yes, it’s true, “freedom” is one of the things that makes America what it is. But that means freedom for everyone, not just people you agree with. Prior to Wednesday’s shooting in Florida, many athletes have come out in support of gun control. Often greeted with the same spirit spurred on by that Ingraham monologue. “Stick to sports, you are not qualified to speak on these issues.” If we only allowed people who were “qualified” to speak on issues, things would look and sound a lot different. Think about that for a moment.
What is it about athletes, in particular black athletes, that makes them “unqualified” to so many? In America black athletes are not allowed to be critical of America because at all times they must show appreciation for their place. In a country whose system is designed to thwart black progress at every level, the black athlete has made it and attained a level of fame and riches in accordance with what the mainstream will allow. He has no right to criticize the country that has given him all he has. Not realizing that his ascent, despite looking destined from the beginning, is nothing short of miraculous.
We have a Presidential administration that, at every turn, alerts its base with targeted attacks on black athletes like it’s attack against Colin Kaepernick’s anthem protest. “No. You don’t have the right to protest social injustice, gun control, bail reform, etc. Play your sport and be thankful you’re rich.”
No matter how much money or level of success attained by the black athlete in America, he still isn’t afforded the right to be critical of the nation in which he lives. He doesn’t have the right to use his platform to speak up for those that don’t have a voice, suffering injustices at the hands of a system that in theory is supposed to protect its citizens.