When athletes speak out, venom follows

If you’re old enough, perhaps the brouhaha over the Minnesota Lynx wearing T-shirts to comment on social issues reminded you of a similar time when uppity athletes didn’t just shut up and play.

This one:

“The mood in the stadium went straight to venom,” John Carlos says. And it wasn’t just the stadium.

Carlos paid a steep price for his conscience. He writes on Vox today that it cost him his friends and it cost him his marriage.

And he says he’d do it again.

That picture of me and Tommie on the podium is the modern-day Mona Lisa — a universal image that everyone wants to see and everyone wants to be related to in one way or another. And do you know why? Because we were standing for something. We were standing for humanity.

Carlos called out today’s athletes, presumably excluding the Lynx, for not showing the courage to take a stand.

And so I’m really frustrated with a lot of today’s stars, who have an opportunity to speak up but don’t. They think they’re secure in their little bubbles of fame and wealth. They think racism and prejudice can’t touch them because they’ve achieved a certain level of success.

I want to tell them, “Your mother’s not secure in that bubble. She doesn’t have a tattoo on her forehead that says she’s part of your lineage. Your son is not secure. Your daughter is not secure. Your father is not secure. The kids you grew up with are not secure.”

Look at Deion Sanders’s son: A few years ago he tried to use a credit card at a fast-food restaurant, and they called the police — they couldn’t believe it was his credit card.

If you’re famous and you’re black, you have to be an activist. Activism is a guy who says, “I’m a multimillionaire, and I’m going to help.” Activism is transparent.

On his website, Carlos laments that even 47 years later, too many people don’t understand the protest.

“Sadly, many people misinterpreted our silent protest as a protest for ‘Black Power’, rather than a protest for human rights for all people throughout the world,” he writes. “For a few seconds, , Tommie, Peter, and I stood side by side not as an American, Australian, black nor white athlete, but as human beings united in one cause.”

Charles Barkley often hears the criticism from the other direction. He’s an athlete who speaks out often, and hears about it in many of the ways Carlos did.

But Barkley is hearing it today because of an appearance on ESPN in which he adopted the position of many Black Lives Matter critics.

We never get mad when black people kill each other, well that always has bothered me…,” Barkley said. “I’ve always said we as black people, if you want respect, you’ve got to give each other respect. You can’t demand respect from white people and the cops if we don’t respect each other.”

“There is some reason why there’s racial stereotypes,” he said. “Some black people are crooks.”

  • DavidG

    It’s not just the stars mothers or sons that aren’t protected by t he bubble., The stars themselves can’t be protected by the bubble. Think: the NBA’s Thabo Sefolosha, or tennis’ James Blake.

  • crystals

    I highly recommend this story on the third athlete in the photo above, Peter Norman: http://griotmag.com/en/white-man-in-that-photo/

    (I disagree with the assertion he might be the biggest hero from that evening, but everything else in the piece is remarkable and so very relevant for today.)

    • Mike Worcester

      Thank you for sharing that. I always did wonder about the third person on that podium.

    • Veronica

      Wow. Just…wow.

      Thank you for sharing.

    • wjc

      Fascinating read. Thanks.

  • Veronica

    And on the other side, there’s the fascinating point from ESPN’s “30 under 30” on OJ Simpson: OJ did everything he could to distance himself from his blackness. Or, as he said, “I’m not black, I’m OJ.”

  • PaulJ

    At the time I was afraid the gloved fist represented racist violence, so I’m glad it didn’t.

    • Rob

      What was the source for your concern?

      • PaulJ

        The symbology of a clenched fist and some of the black power rhetoric of the time (Carmichael).

        • Rob

          So, you were personally afraid, or what?

          • PaulJ

            I was personally afraid (for the results such a message could affect) but not afraid for my person.

          • Rob

            Hope you’ve recovered from the trauma, either way.

          • PaulJ

            I neither forgive nor forget; but it is nice to know they were thinking peaceful thoughts.

  • Mike Worcester

    Is it possible that we hold our athletes to a strange double-standard? That we expect them to be role models (the protestations of Charles Barkely aside) and yet when they try to speak their minds and have an impact, we react as if they should only do, not speak?

    • Matt Black

      This is just my thought, but it seems that with any of our stars (athletes, actors, musicians), we project on to them what we want them to be when we don’t know the answer. “This person is my hero so of course they believe like I do. They have to!” When we find out that isn’t true, it can shake everything we know about them.

      We seem to always want our public figures to speak their minds, but only when we agree with what they’re saying.

      • Tom Brady had a Donald Trump hat in his locker and New England totally lost it. He didn’t even come out and SAY anything, nor take a stand. There’s a reason athletes just stick with the cliche comments.

      • Rob

        I don’t look to athletes for anything.

    • Jeff

      I do like Michael Jordan’s comments when he was asked to advocate for a left leaning political position, “Republicans buy sneakers too.”

      • Rob

        Yup. It’s all about the Benjamins.

  • lindblomeagles

    As we all know, there is a lot of back and forth regarding Black Lives Matter, black on black crime, and police brutality. The HUMANITARIAN point Carlos is hinting at is would any society really want its police officers to kill innocent people of any race? If the answer to that question is no, societies don’t want police to kill innocent people, then we shouldn’t have any discussion about what Black Lives Matter is doing and about black on black crime, and athletes should say and do more on the subject given they need innocent people to watch them play games. I’m reminded a line from the movie “A Few Good Men.” Everybody remembers the famous “You can’t handle the truth” line from that movie. But, it is what Jack said after that that was more important. Jack Nicholson continues on in that scene saying to Tom Cruz, “I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who sleeps and rises under the very blanket of freedom and protection I provide and then questions the manner in which I provide it.” Yes, police help us achieve freedom and protection, but can our democracy really allow cops to do that without ever questioning how they are doing it? Santiago, in that movie, like Castille, was an innocent man. Santiago didn’t deserve to die, but he was killed all the same. And what’s more important to this discussion is the base Nicholson ran was told not to give Code Reds. They ignored the policy and continued doing whatever Nicholson wanted. There’s similarity into that movie’s theme and what we’re talking about here today. I know its difficult to imagine cops killing innocent white people for no reason at all, or to relate what we’re talking about with a made up movie from the 1980s. Yet, this is what we must do if we are too fully understand what is going on here in the present.

  • Jim in RF

    It was only 4 or 5 years ago when Augustus got pulled over in Roseville for driving-while-black.

      • Jeff

        I know quite a few people (yes, even white people) who have been pulled over for the air freshener or dice hanging on the rear view mirror. I agree the stops are quite silly but usually it’s a reason for a stop to look/check for other things…like to see if a person is under the influence. I never hang anything there just because I don’t want to give police a reason…and believe me they’ll find one if they look hard enough.

        • Fascinating to me that in MN until a few years ago you couldn’t pull someone over for not wearing a seat belt. You could only cite them if they were stopped for something else. There was a hue and cry over freedoms and constitutional rights etc.

          • Jeff

            Well now all an officer has to do is say “it looked like he wasn’t wearing a seat belt” and suddenly their stop is 100% legal…I think it did diminish our rights a bit…virtually no different than pulling someone over for hanging an air freshener on their rear view mirror. I say that as a person who ALWAYS wears their seat belt.

          • Rob

            Nothing says. “I’m stupid and irresponsible” more than people claiming that seatbelts are a personal freedom issue. Oh, wait – unless it’s legislators with the same mindset, requiring cops to have another reason to pull someone over before being able to cite them for not wearing a seatbelt. Glad that law was changed; now they just need to make the penalty a little more painful…

      • Veronica

        it’s germane, but when that happened I became acutely aware of my white priveledge that allowed me to drive with an air freshener and not get pulled over. I haven’t hung anything from my mirror since then.

  • kevins

    I remember that vividly..’68 was one heck of a year. When I try to explain that era to college students that I teach, I often get glassy stares, as they clearly can’t relate. I didn’t even find the Olympic statement threatening because I had been brought up to at least try to expect equality in our culture. Perhaps because of that event, I have always had an appreciation for the strength of well thought out and peaceful protests.

    • Worst year ever.

      • kevins

        Likely…but in terms of Olympics…I think ’76.

        • kevins

          Oops…make that ’72…age is getting to me!

  • rosswilliams

    “We never get mad when black people kill each other, well that always has bothered me…,” Barkley said.

    The problem is that isn’t really true, many people in the black community have been working very hard to reduce violence among young black people. Barkley hasn’t. He got rich playing basketball and uses his prominence to spout off about what other people should do. But he isn’t actually doing anything himself.

    • Keith P.

      Access to higher education can help break some of these cycles: http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/sir-charles-barkley-donates-3-million-charities

    • Jeff

      I think it’s sad that the 2 children being shot and 1 killed didn’t generate the same level of protests or even national coverage as 2 adult black men being shot and killed…I don’t know if it’s the media or the community but I find it fascinating how 1 situation warrants national, non-stop coverage and national protests while the other is quickly forgotten just a day or two later…even MPR and local news don’t talk about the shooting of 2 babies just a handful of days later. I think there is a serious question of WHY that is…

      • How many homicides in Minnesota get the attention that shooting you’re referring to got?

        • Jeff

          I guess when children are being shot by an adult I view that differently than a normal homicide where adults are shooting one another over something. When 2 kids under the age of 3 are shot (one of them dies) I think that’s just much more outrageous than a person shot over drugs or in a robbery…I think it warranted much more coverage in the media…I mean even just 1 segment on MPR News should have covered it even just as a reflection as to how this happened and to get the word out about who might have done the shooting.

          I mean I get it, Castile and Sterling shootings along with the situation in Dallas where 5 cops were killed are just massive stories, but this is important too and we need to talk about it and reflect upon it.

          • // just as a reflection as to how this happened and to get the word out about who might have done the shooting.

            You want us to guess who did the shooting? Do you want us to report verified information who did the shooting (in which case we’re out of luck because the police were saying they don’t know)

            If you’re telling us MPR should have reported MORE, then tell me what MPR provided for coverage of the shooting.

            How would you view that shooting compared to this one:


            How should the coverage compare with these two events.

          • Jeff

            I remember that story, I thought it got quite a bit of coverage…it was a while back now but I was pretty sure it got an MPR News segment about mental illness and the warning signs. I know the local media stations covered the murder-suicide for weeks and weeks…trying to understand WHY. There was no where near the same coverage of the 2 children being shot with 1 dying from last weekend that we had with the weeks of coverage we got with that murder suicide. I never said speculate, what I was saying is we should put the word out to capture the person because the person who did the shooting is still out there, hasn’t been turned in as far as I know (but there’s no coverage so maybe there have been developments I don’t know about).

            I feel the coverage should be comparable between the two stories…the coverage of the murder-suicide was extensive…I do remember that!

            Here’s a perfect example of an article about that terrible story reflecting upon the reasons WHY:


          • You didn’t really answer my question. What coverage did MPR provide on the killing in MPls and what is the coverage you want exactly. Play the role of editor.

          • Jeff

            An article like this one ( http://www.mprnews.org/story/2015/09/16/domestic-violence ) reflecting upon the reasons why the shooting in Minneapolis happened, send a reporter in there ask the local people how often the shootings happen and ask why no on in the community is reporting these crimes. Try to understand the logic behind “snitches get stitches” attitude and why the police/community perspectives are so important…how did it get to the point where 2 kids are shot and nobody comes forward to report on who did it…

            You can even relate that story to the Sterling/Castile shootings and even Jamar Clark and try to understand why there so much animosity towards the police.

          • That segment requires us to start with the premise that nobody came forward with information. How do you know that to be the case?

            A connection to the police killings?



            but, again, I go back to your assessment of the amount of coverage MPR provided. To make your assessment, you have to know what coverage MPR provided. Do you?

            BTW, not all content on the radio migrates to online.

          • Jeff

            Not an assumption, that’s the reporting I was seeing:


            From the article:

            Less than five hours after the toddlers were shot, about 50 people gathered at Lowry and Penn. Passing cars honked as Marvin Gaye music played from the MAD DADS vehicle while chants of “Somebody knows who killed that baby!” echoed from the crowd.

            The crowd parted as the babies’ mother, Lashae Jones, arrived, clutching a small yellow stuffed animal. Friends and bystanders pressed closer to Jones as ministers called for prayer and peace. The crowd quoted scripture and sang gospel songs, all the while holding onto one another.

            The crowd chanted “Turn them in!” and “It ain’t ­snitching!”

            That’s the last story I saw on it, has that changed? As I said I’m not 100% sure since the story hasn’t had many follow ups.

            I’ll be honest I’m not reading EVERY MPR story but I do listen to the MPR station quite a bit and I didn’t hear that story on the radio. I’m still not seeing the angle I was suggesting about police/community interaction and the perspective of those who feel turning shooters might be looked at as snitching.

            Why would reporting on ANY shooting be looked at as snitching, we should investigate & explore the reasoning behind that…with a reference to Castile and Clark.

          • DavidG

            Nobody in what you quoted is involved in the police investigation of that shooting. They know no more than you whether anyone has come forward with any information. It’s not uncommon for police to keep quiet on tips they may be receivinhg on a case.

            I’d also note that many of the critics of BLM complain that the black community doesn’t rally or protest non-police involved shootings in their community. And yet, here you are citing a news piece about exactly that.

      • X.A. Smith

        The kids weren’t shot by agents of the state.

      • Kassie

        So where were the white people protests or national coverage when a white man killed his wife and his children only survived because they begged for their lives? http://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2016/05/18/courtney-monson/

        Or when four women were killed by men in three weeks?

        Sorry, the thing you blame black people of doing, white people do too. Why aren’t you out protesting the epidemic of white men killing their partners?

      • Rob

        Here’s your research assignment: total up the number of white kids killed by domestic or neighborhood violence in the U.S. last year, and the number of black kids killed by domestic or neighborhood violence in the U.S. last year, and report back to us.