Reality: Sports Shouldn’t Have Resumed in the First Place

Sports Can No Longer Provide an Escape

“I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired!”

Fannie Lou Hamer

Those were the famous words uttered by Civil Rights Heroine, Fannie Lou Hamer, 56 years ago on Aug. 22, 1964. After describing the graphic details of the 1963 beating in a Mississippi jailhouse that left her with kidney problems, a blood clot, and a permanent limp, she exclaimed her powerful statement, one that still rings true today.

56 years later, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired!” has turned into “We’re sick and tired of being sick and tired!” The killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis law enforcement (Derek Chauvin) only added to the numbers, where black Americans are killed at twice the rate as white Americans. It was the biggest segment of a year that has included the fatal shootings of Rayshard Brooks and Breonna Taylor, the latter in her own Kentucky home, by law enforcement, and the fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery in a racial attack. Now, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Jacob Blake becomes the latest victim; he was shot seven times in the back by a police officer walking back to his car.

“We’re sick and tired of being sick and tired!”

Within days, protests (and sometimes riots) broke out in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and eventually around the country. Within hours of the shooting of Blake, riots began around Wisconsin. Despite a coronavirus pandemic that left many people indoors in most places for two months, many were out in full force, demanding justice and equality. If this sounds familiar in recent memory, it is. In 2015, the city of Baltimore shut down after the death of Freddie Gray. Riots and unrest flooded the streets of Ferguson, Missouri just a day after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown. This is nothing new in this country. Even after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, black men and women continue to march the streets in the fight for racial equality.

“We’re sick and tired of being sick and tired!”

What made the George Floyd response so much different was the amount of attention that the story was getting. No matter where you turned your TV or radio to, there was nothing but talks about the unrest. Because of the pandemic, there was no distraction. Many states were still in Phase 1 or 2 of lockdown, and many people were still working from home. But the one thing that distracted everyone, no matter where you lived, no matter your employment status, no matter your condition, was gone: sports. Unless you were conveniently into anything other than sports, there was nothing else to talk about, nowhere else to go. For the first time in a long while, there was a focus on the fact that racism is rampant in our country, and whether you liked it or not, you were going to hear stories that sound like this:

“We’re sick and tired of being sick and tired!”

And then sports resumed. The NBA slapped BLACK LIVES MATTER on the court and pre-approved messages on the back of jerseys and resumed their season. Major League Baseball put BLM on the back of the mound and saw people not named Bruce Maxwell kneel for the national anthem in unity for the first time in the sport. Slogans like “End Racism” and “#WeSkateforBlackLives” appeared in the NHL bubble. However, a majority of the demonstrations on the field were no longer a priority after Opening Day or the first day of the restarts.

We should have seen the warning signs from Nets’ star Kyrie Irving. In early June, he led the movement in a small group of players that opted out of the NBA restart because it would take away from the movement for equality, justice, and human rights. Sean Doolittle, who has been vocal about the issues of America on his now-deactivated Twitter account, stated “Sports are like the reward of a functioning society” in a Washington Post interview in early July. Yes, he was specifically talking about the politicization of the coronavirus pandemic, but that statement can certainly be applied here. Irving was ridiculed, slandered, called a “disruptor” by many, including former teammate Kendrick Perkins and ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Doolittle was harassed to the point where he deactivated his Twitter account.

Now, we enter August 26. For the second time in a year, sports are in danger of shutting down; this time, it’s not because of COVID-19. Players have taken action, shutting down their own sports. We watched as LeBron James — the game’s biggest and most influential star since Jordan — Kawhi Leonard, and both LA teams voted to stop the season and walk out of the player’s meeting, an unprecedented action. We watched as the Milwaukee Brewers boycotted their game at Miller Park in protest of the shooting of Blake, and watched as the same man who’s hateful and disturbing tweets were revealed from his teenage years just two years ago — Josh Hader — express support for the actions of his team and the Bucks. We watched as two other games were postponed and other players sat out, in the sport where just 7.8% of the baseball population is black (80), and 8% of that number was on one team (the Mariners).

For the first time ever, the same people that have been degraded to “society’s entertainment” found out just how much power they have. In a massive player-driven “disobedience”, they decided to take the entertainment away in the name of social justice.

“We’re sick and tired of being sick and tired!”

Whether sports (NBA, MLB, MLS, etc.) will continue is unknown at this time. All this says is that Irving and Doolittle were right: sports should have never resumed in the first place. Not now. Not when Breonna Taylor’s murderers still haven’t been arrested. Not when a young 17-year old is allowed to walk into the middle of a protest with an AR-15 and open fire and the only thing officials feel the need to mention is that protesters “broke curfew”. Not when there is still a fight four years later on what, when, where, why, and how black men and women should protest the transgressions that they and their ancestors have faced since the founding of this country. Not when hate continues to rule this country in more ways than one.

What we have proven this year is that athletes not only shouldn’t just stick to sports, they can’t. And as a society, we can’t. There can no longer be an “escape”. No longer can any of us be reeled in by the distraction of something that is so meaningless at this time. A Lakers-Clippers matchup in the Conference Finals is no longer as important as this need to fight for equality and justice. The athletes that we look up to so often? Their voices need to be heard, not after a Game 5 victory in the first round in the NBA playoffs, but in the streets of these affected neighborhoods.

This is no longer about sports, and this is barely about politics. This is about human rights, and until there is action made towards such rights, we do not deserve sports as a society.

“We’re sick and tired of being sick and tired!”

For the latest updates on this developing situation, click here.

For another perspective on the protests from athletics, click here.

Payton Ellison

Payton Malloy Ellison is a recent graduate from SUNY New Paltz with a degree in journalism. He has been writing his entire life, and about sports in various genres and settings for five years, starting with monthly coverage for the NBA and Major League Baseball on Grrindtime. He has been the Managing Editor for Diamond Digest for two years, written and edited articles produced live content and assisted in growing the brand for four years. He has also served as the sports director for the New Paltz campus radio station, WFNP The Edge, and had provided play-by-play and color commentary for SUNY New Paltz basketball.

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