On Your Marc: 12/26

Improve the protest

Let’s be better in 2018

By Marc Katz

The worst of 2017?

You mean worse than whatever’s happening in the White House?

I’m going with the Colin Kaepernick controversy, and nothing else in sports comes close.

Despite an exemplary message, he was co-opted by a spin minister concerned only with his own causes.

We’re trying to achieve equality here, which is what I always thought sports were all about. We want fairness for blacks and whites, women and men. We want children to feel safe.

I’m not sure we’re ever going to eliminate prejudice, but we can chip away at that monstrous brain disease as much as possible.

That’s what Kaepernick was trying to do as athletes have slowly moved into the social phase of their communities.

His mistake was to continue on with his mode of protest even when the White House changed his reason for the protest.

Kaepernick wanted to draw attention to rogue police taking advantage of African-Americans. The White House wanted the protest to be about the flag, and veterans who fought in wars behind it.

For a short time, Kaepernick drew the attention he wanted, certainly more than if he had climbed up a flag pole and sat there for three days.

But the attention faded when the White House introduced an alternative protest that had nothing to do with what Kaepernick was suggesting. He never found an alternative way to protest, and as a mediocre cadre of quarterbacks floats through the NFL, he is not one of them without a job because owners would rather try to curry favor from a President who is looking to gain Twitter followers.

Fans, in an uproar, encourage this view in a league where every shirt is tucked in and every sock taped just so above the shoe.

I am reminded of previous eras of African-American athletes who mostly stayed silent as the white world grudgingly welcomed them to the playing fields, where they could perform, not complain.

Branch Rickey struck a major blow to prejudice in 1947 when he gave Jackie Robinson a Brooklyn Dodgers’ uniform. It took more than a decade for every one of the other major league teams to follow.

Robinson was told he couldn’t protest slights—big or small—for at least his first season.

He eventually spoke, but died too young when he could have made an even bigger difference from the late 1970s-on.

We were left, in many instances, with the likes of Willie Mays, Michael Jordan, and Tiger Woods. Tremendous athletes all, they were often silent on social issues. After all, they were there to play and entertain, not comment.

Mays broke into the majors in the 1950s, and saw a different kind of prejudice than would be seen today.

In his autobiography, he said, “Even though we didn’t stay with the team (on the road), there wasn’t no fuss raised. In Chicago, we had to stay at a hotel on the South Side, but we didn’t have a curfew. We got double meal money.

“The other guys stayed at a hotel in the north, and it wasn’t far from the ballpark so they had a bus take them. We (Mays and three other black players) had a car…It was no problem. I had a good time, man, a good time.”

Less than two years ago, Jordan—the basketball player—donated $2 million to causes for better relations among African Americans and police. He’s an owner now, not a player.

“I can no longer stay silent,” Jordan said at the time, shortly after a police brutality of a black man.

“I have decided to speak out in the hope that we can come together as Americans, and through peaceful dialogue and education, achieve constructive change.”

In an NPR interview about the same time, less-quiet Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, noting Jordan had several lucrative endorsement deals when he was a player, said Jordan, “took commerce over conscience.”

Woods, son of an African American man and an Asian woman, said years ago on Oprah he was, “Cablanasian.” He said it bothered him people called him African-American.

He wasn’t going to speak out for a cause he barely recognized as his own.

“It sounded at the time (of Woods’ appearance on Oprah) like Tiger was trying to make up anything not to be black,” said Dr. Imani Perry of the Princeton Center for African-American Studies and a law, culture, and race scholar. “When he chose multi-ethnic, there was almost a perception of running away from being black.”

So there aren’t a lot of quotes for Woods about multi-ethnic relationships.

That isn’t to say all athletes were silent. John Carlos and Tommie Smith protested with closed-gloved fists at the 1968 Olympics. Abdul-Jabbar and Muhammad Ali come to mind. And, long ago, Paul Robeson.

Many athletes speak up now, and Kaepernick found his voice in taking a knee during a pre-game National Anthem.

Then came the spin. LeBron James and basketball cohorts answered with t-shirts and slogans to illustrate their cause. Fewer athletes knelt during National Anthems. Kaepernick, despite appearing on the cover of GQ Magazine as its Citizen of the Year, continues to fade from view.

His cause remains. A way to refine the protest would help.

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Columbus-born Marc Katz had a 44-year newspaper career, 41 of those years covering sports, 40 of them at the Dayton Daily News. He now blogs at KatzCopsNSports.com. Reach Dayton City Paper sports writer Marc Katz at MarcKatz@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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