“It’s coming, ladies and gentlemen / This time around the revolution will not be televised.” — Jay Electronica
Mr. Electronica was wrong.
As the month of June marks the end of a sporting cycle that results in me downgrading my cable services, I missed the Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly Awards (ESPYs) this year. But I quickly became attuned to the fact that social media was ablaze after a quartet of NBA stars — Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, and LeBron James — rendered a stirring monologue that evoked memories of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. They called on a nation’s people to act swiftly in changing the violent and racist narrative of their country.
“The system is broken, the problems are not new, the violence is not new, and the racial divide definitely is not new, but the urgency for change is definitely at an all-time high,” said Anthony.
I watched online intently as the crowd remained silent as four of the biggest stars in the world took a stand. A stand on the current crisis in America that has seen two young, Black men gunned down senselessly by police officers and subsequent retaliation slayings of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge. Lady Liberty was crying incessantly and needed voices of reason.
Enter Paul, Anthony, Wade and James — four of the most polarizing figures in sports today —all members of the NBA draft class of 2003. Statistically speaking, there has not been another class since that has accomplished what this quartet has. From scoring champions to NBA champions, each of them is widely considered the best at their respective positions. They have unequivocally changed the fabric of the NBA in a powerful way, not seen since a young man named Michael Jordan. But, like Spiderman’s uncle Ben said, “With great power comes great responsibility.”
Some may suggest that these super athletes’ only responsibility is to perform well on the court, design great basketball shoes and attire, and not get arrested in local strip clubs and watering holes. In today’s climate, though, this simply isn’t enough, as young Black children throughout North America and the world look up to them as deity-like figures who have replaced traditional perceptions of Black men in America.
For complete control of one’s vices, I believe moderation is necessary in everything. The images and videos of countless unarmed Black men being killed by uniformed officers has triggered an emotional side of me that has almost forced me to delete every account on social media. This came to a head when the murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were so vividly displayed all over the Internet and media outlets. It triggered familiar emotions in me as I recounted childhood memories of a close family member of mine being handcuffed and thrown into the back of a squad car over a minor dispute about a parking spot. I was triggered because for half of my life, I have been a father to three, young, Black boys who are growing up in a generation pioneered by civil unrest and civil action, championed by civil rights leaders of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. However, these forerunners have been unable to eradicate the problem. Their strides have simply made it easier to dismiss some of the ugly truths and issues that still persist today.
“If the crowd wasn’t around, he would’ve shot me / Tried to play me out like my name was Rodney / F*ckin’ police gettin’ badder / ’Cause if I had a camera, the sh*t wouldn’t matter.” — Ice Cube, “Who Got the Camera”
It’s a cover up that has largely gone unnoticed until the evolution of the camera phone, which has enabled an entire generation to form its own makeshift media outlets that post everything from high school cafeteria fights, to police brutality. As Jelani Cobb of The New Yorker observed, “Social media have transformed the public into a nation of eyewitnesses.” The truths that have rapidly been uncovered via social media, are not truths that are new, they are simply truths that have surfaced because of technology. People fail to remember that it was only a mere 50 years ago that African Americans were not afforded the same rights as their Caucasian counterparts — basic rights that included voting, using the same washrooms and joining professional sports leagues. In fact, despite segregation being “abolished” in 1964, The Washington Post recently reported on a desegregation order being put forth in a Mississippi school district. It is evident that structural/institutional racism not only still exists, but the injustices we see on a daily basis are in fact, quite real.
“Keep shooting my people / We will shoot back . . . We gotta start to resist / Black poor people / Get no justice / The courts, the judge / And the jury is fixed.” – Dead Prez
This is the climate I attempt to raise my sons and daughter in. Canada does share more than a few similarities with its neighbour down south when it comes to racism/colonialism/injustice. It’s crucial for me to enlighten my children on the reality of how their skin complexion translates when it comes to law enforcement and other structures of society.
It’s also of paramount importance that today’s professional athletes and popular artists use their platforms to promote peace, acceptance and civility in a world where we are often judged by the colour of our skin, far less than we are judged by the content of our character.
“Many, many trials and tribulations that come up / But you got to realize and know / That even Jericho walls must fall / Every wall must fall.” – Chance the Rapper
Chance the Rapper took to the ESPYs stage to pay tribute in musical form to the late, great Muhammad Ali. Ali was a fighter. Not only was he a fighter in the ring, and of Parkinson’s disease, he was a fighter of injustices throughout society, and made it his lifelong mission to bring awareness to them. From publicly denouncing the U.S. involvement in the highly criticized Vietnam war to then subsequently dodging the draft, Ali vilified himself against the establishment, but endeared himself to the masses. Earlier this year, the world lost a great fighter in Ali, however, it is evident that some athletes have started to pick up where Ali left off.
Kudos to Dwyane, Chris, Carmelo and LeBron for demonstrating to the world that no matter how much money they have made, or statistical accomplishments they have garnered, they are just one bullet away from being another trending hashtag.