“Racism still alive, they just be concealin’ it.”
Words from my teenage days that resonated so deep back in those days and what’s sad is they resonate even more in the year 2020. I remember watching movies from the 90s and witnessing how often they would demonstrate what it was like as a black man to interact with the police.
They have the “power” is what it always looked like to me. They pretty much choose your fate. To be given a ticket or not. Taken away to jail or not. To be murdered in cold blood or….. actually we really haven’t been given much of a choice to choose to be murdered or not because clearly the first instinct many police officers have shown is to murder. (only black people is when they have this mindset) The sadness of thinking that the new norm is being murdered by a cop while unarmed for absolutely no reason just baffles me that we still have to deal with over 400 years after slavery. The recent murder of unarmed black man George Floyd by police officer and murderous thug Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis, Minnesota on May 25 has weighed on my heart heavy also giving me thoughts about people who have stood up for justice when not expected. I think of athletes who at time when they wanted to keep us silent, stood up and spoke while making a difference in doing so.
Let’s take it back to the beautiful Sunday afternoon of, June 4, 1967. This day in history was the day that some of the most prominent black athletes at the time, joined together to support Muhammad Ali who had been stripped of his World Heavyweight title and faced charges of draft dodging for his refusal to fight for the U.S. in the Vietnam War. The site was a nondescript office in Cleveland, Ohio. This day is famously known as ‘The Cleveland Summit.’ During this time, Cassius Clay joined the Nation of Islam (NOI) and changed his named to Muhammad Ali. His refusal to join the military hurt Ali’s support from blacks outside of the NOI so getting support from these athletes really changed things for him. The black athletes in this meeting were prominent in their sport plus the black community.
Football star Jim Brown, and hall of fame basketball players Bill Russell and Lew Alcindor (later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar). Brown organized the meeting. At the time, he had already retired as the NFL’s All-Time Leading Rusher and was working in Hollywood as an actor, but also working towards empowering black people more than most black athletes at the time. Brown was one of the first “superstars” so to speak to speak out against negative issues that were brought along by issues with white cops and or white ideologies which was almost shocking in the 60s. Our generation needs to be aware of who and what Jim Brown stood for because he’s a whole black LEGEND! Brown is who invited Russell and UCLA’s Star Abdul-Jabbar to this summit. He was also able to get Sid Williams and Walter Beach of the Cleveland Browns, Curtis McClinton of the Kansas City Chiefs, Bobby Mitchell and Jim Shorter of the Washington Redskins and Willie Davis of the Green Bay Packers. Also present was Carl Stokes, a prominent attorney in Cleveland who would be elected the first black mayor of a major American city that November. About two weeks later, it took an all-white jury roughly 20 minutes to convict Ali of draft evasion. But the Supreme Court eventually reversed the decision in 1971. Although the Cleveland Summit did not ultimately free Ali or have any impact on the decision made two weeks later, it made many folks in the black community appreciate the solidarity these athletes displayed during a time where this was almost non existent. Salute to Jim Brown and those athletes who decided speaking was a great way to touch the future. But like every great story, some who speak out and stand up for what they believe in face the consequences that blacks in America will only have to deal with.
It’s the 1968 — Mexico City Olympics. American sprinter Tommie Smith won the 200 meter race and fellow countryman John Carlos came in third. While taking the platform to receive their medals during the Star Spangled Banner, Carlos and Smith performed the “Black Power salute.” They were booed insurmountably as they left the stage. Smith and Carlos were widely criticized all for standing up to the injustices that were happening to black people in the U.S. Both athletes were expelled from the games. Smith and Carlos later did have short NFL careers but never fully recovered although Sports Illustrated reported that the photograph of their protest was the most reproduced image in the history of the Olympics. Salute to brothers Tommie Smith and John Carlos. Touched the future.
In 1990, Chris Wayne Johnson of LSU was the highly touted, third overall pick in the draft. Johnson converted to Islam and changed his name to Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf. Starting in 1996 Abdul-Rauf refused to stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner” before NBA games. Abdul-Rauf said he saw the flag as a symbol of oppression. He believed the U.S. was an unjust tyranny and therefore “in conflict with his Islamic beliefs.” This later caused for former NBA commissioner David Stern to suspend Abdul-Rauf for one game in March 1996. He was able to compromise with the NBA by being allowed to bow his head, close his eyes and recite a Muslin prayer. Just to have to stand for something he just did not believe in. After his 1996 suspension, he played three more NBA seasons, starting in only 62 more games. Another person who should up for what he believed in and punished maybe because…. He was a black muslim. Simple. Touched the future.
There are many other black athletes who have been blackballed who deserve recognition like former Bulls guard Craig Hodges. Salute to Craig Hodges as well because although he was able to win two championships and three consecutive three-point shootouts, when the Chicago Bulls visited the White House after winning the 1992 NBA Finals, Hodges dressed in a dashiki and delivered a hand-written letter addressed to then President George H. W. Bush. He expressed his discontent at the administration’s treatment of the poor and minorities. Hodges also went as far as criticizing team and biggest NBA star Michael Jordan for not using his fame to draw attention to social and political issues, and said Jordan was “bailing out” for not being politically outspoken. Hodges never played another NBA game after that 92 season. Not an offer or tryout from a single NBA team at just 32 years old. Unreal. Hodges filed a $40 million lawsuit against the NBA and its then 29 teams, claiming they blackballed him for his association with the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan and criticism of “African-American professional athletes who failed to use their considerable wealth and influence to assist the poor and disenfranchised.” The suit also claimed Billy Mckinney, the director of player personnel for the Seattle SuperSonics initially showed interest in Hodges in 1992, and then shortly after lost interest, telling Hodges he could do nothing because “brothers have families, if you know what I mean.” Sick white men. While a Bulls official said Hodges was waived as he was getting old and could not play defense, head coach Phil Jackson said, “I also found it strange that not a single team called to inquire about him. Usually, I get at least one call about a player we’ve decided not to sign. And yes, he couldn’t play much defense, but a lot of guys in the league can’t, but not many can shoot from his range, either.” Just another black man punished but also encouraged many to come after him. Touched the future.
Many athletes today often speak out on the injustices that seems to continue to occur today. Most recently was former Super Bowl QB Colin Kaepernick. He’s brought forth a conversation that might have never been touched on in the NFL world because he and a handful of NFL athletes are the only ones who spoke about it in the NFL. I do not believe Kaepernick’s story is done and he deserves a more in-depth deep dive into his struggles that are continue to today. Salute to Colin Kaepernick for continuing to touch the future.
The conversation NBA stars LeBron James, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, and Carmelo Anthony had with the world at the 2016 ESPYs Awards was one of the more needed conversations in an uncomfortable setting for white folks that I was ever able to witness in my lifetime. I salute LeBron James for always stepping up and speaking out as the top athlete in his sport every single time it is needed. He also opened a school in his community I Promise School (IPS) is a public elementary school in Akron, Ohio, opened in 2018, supported by the LeBron James Family Foundation, and specifically aimed at at-risk children. I love that south side Chicago native Derrick Rose wore the “I CAN’T BREATHE” t-shirt setting off an entire wave throughout the league and all 32 teams wore them. I salute NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and the Clippers team that took a stand again racist prick Donald Sterling and the comments he made about blacks (which is a long list and he should have been in the trash a long time ago, another story for another day also) banning him for life. I salute all the things and what NBA players stand for. Touching the future. I believe change can come, we just have to always want it and stand up for what we believe in. Continue to talk, don’t hold back. You can also … touch the future.
Sports & Culture Editor for SWGRUS.