Updated: Jun 10, 2020
I didn’t begin this blog with the intention of it becoming a political platform. And I still don’t see it as such. The truth is simply that sport, psychology, and politics are intimately interwoven. Yes, they can be teased apart, but this does not mean they’re not interconnected. They very much are. And with our current social and political climate it simply feels negligent, and ignorant to the magnitude of pain and injustice so many people of color are, and have been, feeling, to simply write about something less pertinent and ignore this opportunity to further discuss these issues. So I won’t do so. The other posts will just have to wait.
When people ask me my thoughts on professional athletes as role models, my stance on the topic is this: Professional athletes are human. Just like you and I, they make mistakes, they make choices, and we need to be careful about adorning them with a superhero cape too soon, as we’ve done so many times. And while character is not the same as talent, talent, too, can take time to be revealed, and cast into the light.
Especially in an era when public relations teams are hired with the sole responsibility of creating and protecting the public image of its client, it can be difficult to know if the athlete you see posing with a puppy and donating to your favorite charity is actually worthy of your adoration. Maybe he or she is, maybe not. Only time will tell.
But when they fall off the skyscraper-high pedestal we’ve placed them on, which regrettably so many inevitably do, it hurts. We feel angry, confused, and oddly personally violated to a large extent. (My heart still hurts and I feel this immediate juvenile need to give side-eye at the thought of my beloved former Baltimore Orioles’ first baseman Rafael Palmeiro since his dethroning after testing positive for performance enhancing drugs despite vehemently denying ever knowingly using them.) Right or wrong, regardless, it all feels very personal.
And then sometimes, unlike my Rafi heartbreak, it actually is personal, intimately so. As is the case right now for so many of Drew Brees’ teammates and fans following the New Orleans Saints’ quarterback’s remarks opposing kneeling as protest during the national anthem were broadcasted earlier this week.
As a white woman, one with the distinct privilege of not experiencing the harsh realities of racism that my fellow black and brown Americans have, I watched Brees’ commentary and honestly sat there dumbfounded, unable to come up with words to describe how utterly disappointed and dismayed I felt. Because it honestly seemed unbelievable that this man, an icon for the city of New Orleans, a city comprised of a 59.7% black population, could have be so completely void of understanding of the meaning behind the kneeling protests being conducted by his peers.
For FOUR years his teammates, colleagues, and fellow Americans have followed the lead of former NFL player Colin Kaepernick by kneeling as a sign of peaceful protest against the injustices occurring against people of color in the United States, specifically at the hands of law enforcement. For FOUR years he had the opportunity to listen, and most importantly to give his friends and teammates, the very men who protect him every day on the field, an opportunity to be heard. Yet, he didn’t. He so clearly didn’t.
I simply cannot imagine what it feels like to be one of the 18 (of 22 starters) people of color who share the field with Brees. Men who now must navigate these muddy waters of mistrust, disappointment, and anger as the leader of their team indicates through his sentiments that for four years he hasn’t even been listening. Their cloak of invisibility is heavy.
As a professional athlete there is no clause in Brees’s contract that says he is obliged to listen when his teammates, thousands of residents of his city, and millions of fellow Americans try to be heard.
But we hoped he would.
As a professional athlete and “hero” of a city that has so intimately seen and felt the depths of despair and social injustice displaced onto people of color, he wasn’t required to truly look his teammates in the eyes and listen to their hearts as they spoke of their detailed experiences of racism, and trauma.
But we hoped he would.
And ultimately, as a professional athlete who has now been given a four year-in-the-making second chance to truly “get it”- he doesn’t have to.
But we hope he will.
And we hope that many others, athletes and otherwise, will join him. All it takes is one right move. Because yet again, unequivocally, Black Lives Matter.
*For more ways to support the mission of equity and social justice for people of color in your community, and across the world, you can find many resources here. And above all else- please use your voice to Vote.