Even though I wrote a book whose topic is Race, I do not think about race all of the time. I do not look at everything that happens to people through the lens of Race. That seems to make me a little different as a black man in the current climate.
A few days ago Laura Ingraham made a comment toward Lebron James in which she advised him to just shut up and dribble. I believe that she made the comment to highlight that she does not really care to hear about the politic views of athletes or other celebrities. I explained to my older son Nate, with whom I do the Video Blog, "Pops and Cash" that I also tire of hearing what actors or athletes think about the President or any other political issue. I explained that when I buy a ticket to a movie or go to a sporting event I want to escape the rancorous topics of the day. I want to escape. I do not want to be fed the political perspective of the participants. If I want that, I know which forums to go to. Nate believes that Race is such an important topic that it should not be confined to just a few forums. At first I really disagreed with him. Then I looked back.
When I was growing up, there were few influential voices in the black community. There was the voice of the pastor, the actor or the athlete. Because of racism some of these high profile people refrained from speaking out against injustice. There were not a lot of black business people with a high enough profile to move the needle where this topic was concerned. Two of the ones who spoke out, that I admired, were Jim Brown and Kareem Abdul Jabbar. They were thoughtful, they were vocal and they were committed to change. They refused to return racial hatred with racial hatred. They however refused to minimize the challenges that occurred in daily life for black people. There were people who were offended by the demonstrations at the Olympics in 1968 and others that followed. The mentality was pretty much, 'just sit up and play ball." A few nights ago I was reminded of these days by watching a special on CBS sports channel about the 14 black football players who protested racism at the University of Wyoming in 1969. They wanted to meet with the coach and discuss the name calling and treatment that occurred when they played Brigham Young University. They were also offended that blacks could not hold the position of priest in the Mormon church. When they showed up to meet with the coach, an observer noticed that he yelled at them and berated them. He then told them that they were kicked off of the football program. The players only wanted to express their viewpoint. They had no intention of not playing in the game or protesting before, during or after the game itself.
Watching this reminded me of the courage of people who refused to coexist with injustice but used their platform to speak out against it. It also made me think of where the influential voices in the black community are today. Unfortunately most of them are in sports, music and athletics, much like it was in the 60 and 70's. The preponderance of professionals in the black community has not expanded much. For example, among the Fortune Five Hundred Companies, The most powerful companies in America, there are only 3 black CEO's. Why so few? If there were more, would Lebron James opinion mean so much? In the present climate, where are the non-athletes, non-actors and non-musicians who have the influence to present a viewpoint that people would respect.
Because of the reasons above, I no longer subscribe to the "just shut up and dribble" mentality. Let me clarify though. I am supporting the right for any citizen to express their viewpoints on issues. That is part of the greatness of America. However, when I go to a sporting event, I want to see sports. Off the field I am willing to listen to, and would even encourage athletes to participate in the important discussions of where the country should go. I hope that they do so respectfully and do not default to calling the sitting President, a white supremacist or a bum, something that they would not have tolerated from people who said equivalent things about the first black President Barak Obama. Let's keep it classy, Americans.
Milt Thompson is a former educator and superintendent of Schools in Wisconsin. He speaks before various groups about race and other topics. He is the author of the book, The Only One In The Room. Please leave a comment whether you agree or disagree with any of the posted blogs.