In a world where Black professional athletes are being told politics and policy aren’t their business, a world of “Shut up and dribble,” it has never been more important to go out and vote as if your freedom depends on it.
Athletes have been speaking on issues outside of sports—issues such as social justice and racial equality—since former NFL star Paul Robeson gave a “seminal condemnation of American racism” during the 1949 Paris Peace Conference.
Journalist Howard Bryant explores this history of political activism among Black athletes in his book The Heritage: Black Athletes, a Divided America, and the Politics of Patriotism, referring to it as “the Heritage,” according to the Pacific Standard’s Brandon Tensley.
“For some 20-plus years, the Heritage thrived, sustained by figures like Cassius Clay and Lew Alcindor, both of whom later converted to Islam and officially change their names—to Muhammad Ali and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, respectively,” Tensley wrote.
“Nodding to his Pan-African beliefs, Ali remarked in a 1975 Playboy interview: ‘Sure, I know I got it made while the masses of black people are catchin’ hell, but as long as they ain’t free, I ain’t free.’”
Today, athletes including Colin Kaepernick, Malcolm Jenkins and, most recently, LeBron James, are continuing this political activism, showing the world, once again, that they recognize and experience injustices, too, and have no intention of shutting up about them.
On Oct. 27, James wore a “Beto for Senate” baseball cap in support of U.S. Rep. and 2018 Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke.
— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) October 27, 2018
This show of public support isn’t surprising considering that last August, James “praised and retweeted” a clip from NowThis News of O’Rourke explaining why he believes NFL athletes who kneel during the national anthem are not being disrespectful.
“My short answer is ‘no,’ I don’t think it’s disrespectful,” O’Rourke said.
“Peaceful, non-violent protests, including taking a knee at a football game to point out that Black men, unarmed, Black teenagers, unarmed, and Black children, unarmed, are being killed at a frightening level right now, including by members of law enforcement, without accountability, and without justice,” he added.
“And this problem—as grave as it is—is not gonna fix itself, and they’re frustrated, frankly, with people like me, and those in positions of public trust and power, who have been unable to resolve this or bring justice for what has been done and to stop it from continuing to happen in this country,” he said.
O’Rourke is right: This problem isn’t going to fix itself—no problem ever does. But when it comes to fighting against police brutality and for racial equality, “peaceful, nonviolent protests” are not the only ways to force lawmakers to bring justice.
As Black Americans, we have to educate ourselves on candidates and vote during every election. We have to march to the polls, knowing the difference between a Ted Cruz and a Beto O’Rourke.
Our freedoms depend on it.
It is clear that there are folks out there who want to categorize and limit the voices of certain individuals. This is nothing new, of course. Voter suppression has been occurring since Black people won the right to vote. However, we must not let them stop us from deciding on government that has our best interests at heart.
Figures such as Muhammad Ali, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Colin Kaepernick have risked their careers to speak out against racial injustices. They’ve proven that athletes can do more than just dribble a ball.
It’s on the rest of us now to do our part and continue their fight by going to the voting polls and electing lawmakers who want the same things that we all do: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.