It’s easy to speak out when others have already raised their voices.
In the hours after Derek Chauvin was convicted of murdering George Floyd on Tuesday, sports leagues and teams issued statements praising the verdict and making somber promises to continue the fight against racism. Which is all well and good.
But where have these folks been the last few months?
All this talk about equality and unity and a need for healing, do they really think people aren’t watching what they are – and aren’t – doing between their Tweets? Horrific as Floyd’s murder was, systemic racism didn’t begin or end with his death. It isn’t limited to bad policing. It permeates every aspect of our society, yet too many are only willing to challenge injustices publicly when it’s convenient or there’s safety in numbers, and their outrage is decidedly selective.
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Texas, Florida and Arizona are hellbent on joining Georgia in passing legislation that will make it harder for Black and brown people to vote, falsely claiming these “security” measures are necessary to prevent fraud in our elections. Never mind that, despite a pandemic, even Republican officials said last year’s election was the “most secure in American history.”
These measures undercut our democracy and ensure that the promises of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness will remain beyond the reach of Black and brown people. Yet when hundreds of civic and business leaders, companies and celebrities issued a statement last week opposing “any discriminatory legislation” and saying that for democracy to work, “we must ensure the right to vote for all of us,” it was striking whose names were included and whose were missing.
Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, who also was on a call the previous weekend to brainstorm ways to oppose voter suppression efforts, signed. So did the president of his family’s foundation. The NFL? Commissioner Roger Goodell? Other high-profile NFL owners?
Nope. Ditto for notable names from Major League Baseball, which pulled its All-Star Game from Atlanta in response to the Georgia legislation. The NHL? Please.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver and WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert signed. So did Steve Koonin, CEO of the Atlanta Hawks and State Farm Arena, which was used as an early voting site for the November election. Jack Davies, a minority partner in Monumental Sports, the group that owns the Washington Wizards, Mystics and Capitals, also signed.
That was about it.
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I even emailed Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who has never been shy about expressing his political opinions and who took the bold stand of not playing the national anthem when his American Airlines Center was devoid of fans. Surely he would have thoughts on Texas legislators’ efforts to disenfranchise Black and brown voters.
If he does, Cuban isn’t willing to share them. At least not with me. On Tuesday night, though, the Mavericks’ posted a Tweet with the word “Accountability” in bold capital letters, the hashtags #Listen #Learn #Unite beneath it.
Performative measures are easy. But they’re cheap, too, and we can no longer afford them.
“It’s so hard for me to find optimism in the midst of all of this. It really is,” New Orleans Pelicans coach Stan Van Gundy said Tuesday night. “We seem to be, at least in my opinion, to be going backwards on issues of racial equality and justice.
“I think the most graphic example of that is all the voting rights and voter suppression acts that have been coming up in all these states that, regardless of what anyone says, is clearly aimed at people of color.”
I’m well aware there are team owners doing work in their communities, believing they can maximize their influence – and financial resources – at the grassroots level. I also know some of the leagues and players associations are actively working on criminal justice reform.
But Black and brown people are under assault every day, from all corners, and now so, too, is our democracy. It is not enough to confine activism to areas that are familiar, or take a stand when it is no longer controversial.
Imagine the impact of seeing Goodell’s name on that letter supporting voting rights. Or that of Jerry Jones. Imagine the influence the NFL could have by putting Arizona lawmakers on public notice that the Super Bowl that is supposed to be played in Phoenix in 2023 will be moved if they persist with their efforts to disenfranchise efforts.
Actually, we don’t have to imagine it. The NFL yanked a Super Bowl from Arizona in 1991 because voters had refused to make Martin Luther King Jr. Day a state holiday. A year later, the measure passed.
The anger, sadness and frustration that drove millions of Americans into the streets last summer, the sickness that had most of the country felt waiting for the verdict Tuesday, that needs to be marshalled every day if true change is going to occur.
Statements are desperately needed from people who command our society’s attention. But the ones Tuesday aren’t it.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.