My column is late this week. This is due in part to illness, but also because of the unconscionable verdict that 6 jurors reached in the trial of George Zimmerman. Since Saturday night, I have been filled with rage and despair. Not much sports information has gotten through to my weary brain. Just knowing that a jury has decided that young, unarmed Black young people can be followed, fought, and shot to death has me on edge.
Writing about sports right now is made even tougher still since so many of the athletes who make great contribution to sports like football and basketball "fit the description" of someone that other folks fear for simply being. Fans and commentators alike often speak of players in racially coded language such as referring to them as thugs for minor infractions on the court or field or by assuming certain things about their families and backgrounds. This is the sort of thinking that led Zimmerman to profile and accost Trayvon that night.
As a sports writer, I'm always hyper aware of prejudice in the industry and have written about it extensively. But I still struggle with when and how to point it out. At times I've considered never writing about race in sports again and sticking to what I love and know best : Xs and Os, sports business, and lifestyle. Usually, I feel this way after I see a Black colleague shamed for discussing race. I've seen many Black professional sports observers have their work dismissed and reduced, as readers complain that all we ever do is talk about race...even if that is rarely the case To add insult to injury, those in my field who dare speak up about race are often accused of being racist ourselves.
But the story of Trayvon Martin has sparked in me an even greater need to contribute to these conversations and to support folks (of all races) who are willing to take them on. While I don't believe that it is within the Black community's power to dismantle racism, I do think there's ample value in writers and commentators among our ranks taking the time to encourage folks to reexamine their beliefs.
I'm not going to cower from folks who want me to be silent about how the lack of diversity in sports media contributes to negative perceptions of Black athletes in particular and Black people in general. I won't ignore the fact that the NFL has to do a better job of building paths for Black coaches and executives to be included and heard. And I certainly won't be bullied from using my blog or Twitter timeline to address issues of the day that touch me personally just because there may be a racial aspect that makes some folks uncomfortable.
This country is ripe with institutions that put unnecessary obstacles in the way of Black people on a daily basis. And there are simply too many of our fellow Americans who see Black folks as either a threat or entertainment with no possible purpose in between. No one will be served well if I pretend I'm unaware or do not care.
Jessica Danielle is a professional speechwriter and blogger who covers sports with wit and ardor at PlayerPerspective.com.