The Jets’ decision to join so many other NFL teams in canceling practice on Thursday won’t be enough to end the scourge of police brutality, racism or social injustice in our country. A pause in the sports world won’t cure the ignorance of racists, or even those just screaming “Stick to sports.”
After all, when CNN asked Marc Short, the Chief of Staff to Vice President Mike Pence, for a reaction to NBA players refusing to play their playoff games, he called their protests “absurd and silly.”
“If they want to protest,” Short said, “I don’t think we care.”
It’s absurd and silly and unbearably sad that someone in a position of leadership in this country would be so dismissive of the cries of pain from such a large and historically marginalized group of people. It’s sadder still that so many will nod their heads in agreement. They want their lives to look like a sterile, 1950s sitcom and they want their games on TV, as long as the athletes stand for the national anthem and keep their mouths shut.
They want that because they either don’t, or simply won’t, understand what this is all about, because there’s no possible way they even could fully understand. The anger and outrage about the anger and outrage comes almost exclusively from white children of privilege.
And the problem isn’t that athletes choose to open their mouths. It’s that too many others refuse to open their ears.
So maybe now, with the sports world effectively paused, would be a good time to fix that. Maybe now is a good time to take a break from your disgust that the NBA and NHL playoffs have been postponed for a few days, that some baseball games won’t be on TV, and that some NFL teams are refusing to practice, and to actually listen to why that’s happening. Listen to the horror stories the players we cheer for have been sharing. Hear the real pain in their voices. Try and understand that this anguish is something they’ve been feeling their entire lives.
Just listen, because their words are eloquent and poignant, and their voices are strong. They have put their lives on hold for a few days to get your attention, and if you want them to continue to entertain you, at least hear them out.
Let them tell you why, when they see another black man being gunned down by police, they truly believe it could just as easily happen to them.
“It’s just sad,” said Giants star running back Saquon Barkley. “You look at it like, ‘What if that was my brother? I know my father went through a similar situation when I was in college. In that little situation right there, you can lose someone that you really care about. I think when you look at it, you can’t look at it as, ‘Oh, it’s Jacob Blake.’ You have to put yourself, ‘What if I was in that situation? What if it was your brother? What if it was your cousin? What if it was (teammate Sterling Shepard)? What if it was Golden (Tate)? All those guys. That’s kind of the way I look at it.”
“I’ve been in a similar situation when I was in college,” said Jets receiver Jamison Crowder. “I was pulled over numerous amounts of times because of the car I was driving. Obviously, I was being stereotyped. I hadn’t committed a crime at all, but, you know, I had drug dogs pulled on me, had to get out of the car, you know what I’m saying?
“When I see those images of things like this continuing to happen, it just always reminds me of my situation that I was in person. One false move I could have made, I could easily be a victim.”
“I’m an African American man and that easily could have been me,” said Jets safety Bradley McDougald. “As soon as I walk out of One Jets Drive, I’m just another black man. I don’t know how the cop is going to see me. I have dreads and tattoos and I’m bigger than the average male. I don’t know how that cop is going to view me and the attitude and the aggression he’s going to give me.”
It must be horrible to live with that fear. It must be worse to live with it feel like no one is listening or cares enough to understand. It has been, after all, four years and one day since the world learned why Colin Kaepernick was refusing to stand for the national anthem. He was trying to make all the points that athletes are trying to make today. But no one really listened to him either.
So here they are, four years later, fighting the same, old fight. And the fact that so many are more bothered by athletes taking a stand than by what the police did to Jacob Blake in Wisconsin is exactly why this stand is being still taken. They won’t reach those who don’t want to be reached. But for the rest of us, for those who want to believe in the full human race, we owe it to everyone to listen this time – really listen to their words.
Whether it’s Saquon Barkley or Jamison Crowder or Dom Smith of the Mets, they are telling deeply personal stories and sharing experience that most of us have never had. So don’t just switch to another channel because there’s no Islanders game and maybe no Mets game on Thursday night, take a moment to hear and understand why.
That won’t end racism. It won’t mean anything to those who think this is just “absurd and silly.” But it’s the least we can do for the athletes who will surely go back to entertaining us all tomorrow. And who knows? Maybe listening is the first step towards actually changing the world.