A few posts ago we complained about the politicization of sports. To be fair we have always complained about the jingoism of the NFL and owners turning a game into a forced patriotic moment where there are military jet flyovers and at halftime some poor Gunny Sergeant back from Afghanistan with half his face shot off is reunited with his family. Of course if NFL owners really cared about vets they would give them jobs and set aside a few hundred seats in the lower bowl at the 40-50 yard line and treat military members and their families to a game. But that would cost the owners money. So we have always seen the hypocrisy in the fake patriotic displays especially when most owners did not serve.
As the nation erupted in flame and violence this spring over racial inequality players began speaking out. The NFL jumped in again with a fake display of solidarity by playing "Lift every voice and sing" but as we reported the Dolphins called them out on that hypocrisy and refused as a team to take the field during the anthems.
But we also criticized the players saying we were paying to watch a game and didn't want to be lectured by players whose own moral backgrounds could be shady.
Enter Tony Moss who called us to task with this comment:
That's exactly what people like you once said about people like Tommie Smith, John Carlos, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell, Muhammad Ali, and others who sacrificed in support of a greater cause than scoring buckets or touchdowns. How does history regard those men now? And you have the audacity to suggest that this tradition of Black athletes reaching beyond the gridiron or the court is "forcing" adverse views upon you? After all the adverse views and images that have been scarred into our collective psyche?
And in case you didn't consider it: perhaps that "350-pound Okie" you refer to just might have a thought or perspective on the country he's living in that merits consideration by the rest of us. How condescending of you.
And the thing is...he was 100% correct. Ali was an idol of ours. We remember being a child but old enough to understand the social unrest and battle for civil rights at the time and seeing Smith and Carlos hold up their fists, and being inspired. They truly fought the power. It was a great and courageous act that became an iconic moment.
We remember the adults we knew who hated Ali. They often not only wanted to see him beat but it was common to hear otherwise normal adults say that they wanted someone to "shut that nigger's mouth" and we use the actual word because we heard the phrase a lot and it made us love Ali even more. He stood up to hate. He stood up the the US government. He said no to war, One exact quote was that no Vietnamese person ever called him a nigger- He asked why he should go fight them? And he was right. He caused us to question the values of the adults we knew and the values of our president and our country.
So what's the difference now? How could we idolize Smith and Carlos and Ali and Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Russel and get angry now when some athlete makes a statement about the current problems in the country?
Well once we read the stinging and 100% correct rebuke from Tony Moss we spent some time meditating on this. It is not often we are so devastatingly taken down by logic that we cannot refute.
And to our great discomfort we came to the realization that it was age. We have grown old and closed minded. Oh does that hurt! As a child Ali and Smith and Carlos and the other athletes were the adults -at least to us they were. Now in our 50s we look at these 22-30 year olds as no-nothing kids. And yet it was the loud-mouthed kids like Ali and Smith and Carlos who refused to shut up and changed the world.
There is more here. More to think about and more to analyze. The athletes who speak out now are of a different generation. They didn't grow up with the overt racism of the "no blacks and jews " signs that littered the landscape of our youth. But they experienced the more insidious racism of economic subjugation. They could eat wherever they wanted but their mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters didn't have the chance to earn a living to give them money to eat at the restaurant that would serve them. The door was closed -just another way and we have not been sensitive to that. When the "no blacks" signs came down we thought the struggle was won. And we were wrong. And these athletes are saying that and lest we become an old and bitter closed-minded man, we need to listen to their voices.
We recall that when Dr. King was killed in Memphis he was there to support a sanitation worker's strike. It was not a black issue. It was an economic issue because as 1968 got under way Dr. King knew the real struggle was economic equality. But he was struck down before he could make a difference.
So as our hero Winston Churchill was wont to say- those who do not change their minds do not change anything. We give round one to Tony Moss. It was not even close. We blew it. He kicked out butt with irrefutable logic and opened closed eyes.
And for that we thank him for continuing to fight the good fight.