Will Charlottesville Provoke White Athletes to Stand Up Against Racist Hate?

Two professional athletes who attended the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, one in the NFL and one in Major League Baseball, spoke out after the American Nazi march where a fascist murdered Heather Heyer with his car. Both pro jocks had something important to say.

Chris Long—the Philadelphia Eagles defensive end who made the news earlier this year as one of the New England Patriots to boycott the Trump White House visit—said:

I don’t tell people to stick to their job when they want to talk politics. And this isn’t political. That’s the thing. Everybody is trying to turn this political. This isn’t a political issue. This is right or wrong. I believe you’re on one side or the other. For me, being from Charlottesville, no one wants to see you sit idly by and watch that stuff happen and not say anything. And I wish there was more categorical denial from some very important people in this country who have had the opportunity to strike it down but didn’t.

Then there is Washington Nationals pitcher Sean Doolittle. If the name rings a bell beyond the field, Doolittle has done nationally recognized charity work alongside his partner, journalist Eirann Dolan. They made national news in November 2015, when Doolittle and Dolan hosted a Thanksgiving dinner in Chicago with 17 Syrian refugee families.

Doolittle posted the following message:

So it’s really frustrating that they chose to go there from the outside just to march and spread their hatred. I just found out that somebody died from the car thing today. It’s past the point of hearing what they have to say, spreading this kind of hatred. Saying, ‘You will not replace us.’… You aren’t the ones at the risk of being quote-unquote replaced by some of this administration’s policies. And it’s just white fear. It’s the worst kind of hatred. It’s disgusting.

These statements matter not merely because Long and Doolittle are high-profile athletes with a connection to Charlottesville. It matters because they’re white men. For too long, black athletes—women and men—have carried the burden of speaking out against Trump’s racist agenda. Now, after Charlottesville, people’s heads could be coming out of the sand. We are past the time when white athletes need to share the media slings and arrows and show white fans that to be a white political athlete doesn’t mean you have to be Peyton Manning, playing gold with Trump. There is—believe it or not—a badass tradition of the progressive white athlete and it is past time to see it revived.

Black athletes, similar to what we have seen over the last several years, were not hesitant about being heard. For example LeBron James tweeted, “It’s sad what’s going on in Charlottesville. Is this the direction our country is heading? Make America Great Again huh?! He said that.”

We have reached the point with LeBron James when it would have been surprising had he said nothing. There was also NBA player Evan Turner who responded to Trump’s pathetic tweet about the American Nazi march by commenting, “Y’all won’t do what is needed because you have tolerance for hate. These people are breeding more humans to keep this ignorant cycle going!”

Green Bay Packer tight end Martellus Bennett tweeted, “I Wish there was a rotten tomatoes for presidents. The current president rating would probably be the same as the Emoji movie.” His brother, Seattle Seahawk Michael Bennett sat during the anthem on Sunday, the day after his former teammate, Oakland Raider Marshawn Lynch did the same. Afterward, Bennett pledged to sit all season saying:

Seeing everything in Virginia…I just wanted to be able to use my platform to continuously speak out on injustice…. First of all I want to make sure people understand I love the military—my father was in the military. I love hot dogs like any other American. I love football like any other American. But I don’t love segregation, I don’t love riots, I don’t love oppression. I don’t love gender slander. I just want to see people have the equality that they deserve and I want to be able to use this platform to continuously push the message and keep finding out how unselfish we can be in society, how we can continuously love one another and understand that people are different. And just because people are different doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t like them. Just because they don’t eat what you eat, just because they don’t pray to the same God you pray to doesn’t mean you should hate them. Whether it is Muslim, whether it is Buddhist, whether it is Christianity, I just want people to understand that no matter what, we need to stay together. It’s more about being a human being at this point.

But Bennett told me that he doesn’t want to be doing this kind of work alone. He said, “If want to get anything done, we need white athletes to stand along side us. It can’t just be our voices, our burden.”

As Charlottesville shows, it certainly cannot be black voices and bodies alone to beat back the Trump/Bannon agenda. This is an all-hands-on-deck time in our history. In the words of a friend who was in Charlottesville and almost hit by the car driven by the murderer of Heather Heyer:

In order to command the streets, we have to fill them. If we had had people covering every inch of downtown Charlottesville, we wouldn’t have been so vulnerable. In order to demobilize the fascist movement, they have to be physically outnumbered and driven out (they won’t be won on a political basis, their politics are based on hypocrisy and violence). Isolate them, demoralize them.

It is tough to think of something that would demoralize these bottom dwellers more than seeing their white athletic heroes publicly and loudly telling them that they can go to hell.

Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to dave@edgeofsports.com.
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