In conjunction with its black-themed blog site, The Undefeated, ESPN aired a one-hour program Sunday evening examining race in America and athlete activism. Hosted by SportsCenter anchor Cari Champion, the live broadcast took place at Sixth Avenue Baptist Church in Birmingham, where Dr. Martin Luther King spoke in the aftermath of his 1963 "I have a dream" speech. The program and its accompanying blog replayed several of the same themes behind this past season's NFL protests.
Some of the featured guests backed the racist beefs of Colin Kaepernick and the NFL players who kneeled or raised their fists during the national anthem as "gospel." The introduction featured the voice of J. Ivy saying "the struggle continues," "injustice breeds here because it never left" and "So for the equal treatment of all humans here in America we fight with open hearts, but not with closed fists." Not unless you count the NFL protesters who stood with those closed fists throughout the 2017 season, that is. Interspersed throughout the program were letter recitations by athletes speaking about race relations.
The most negative letter definitely belonged to Michael Bennett, a defensive lineman for the Seattle Seahawks, who was introduced as having been unjustly treated when he ran from police in Las Vegas last fall. He cited injustices done to, among others, Michael Brown, killed in 2014 during an altercation with a policeman in Ferguson, Mo., who acted in self-defense.
Bennett asked how we can trust people when there is no justice and suggested the African-American community can build bridges with police. He certainly didn't attempt to build a bridge with police in Vegas.
Among the strongest opinions expressed on the TV program were those of Jemele Hill, former SportsCenter host and now a writer for The Undefeated. No expert on race relations, she took to social media last fall and called President Trump and his supporters "white supremacists."
Hill said we are spinning our wheels and hypocritically asked what white people are doing to improve race relations. She also said that as long as Colin Kaepernick is not employed by the NFL we should not expect players to stop kneeling. Retired football player Anquan Boldin said it's not up to the NFL to end racism, but he agreed the protests are not over, and former Laker Kobe Bryant (in photo above) said the police brutality "has to stop." David Williams, athletic director at Vanderbilt University, said we should not confuse "change" with "progress" and asked how many universities employ black athletic directors or black women coaching women's basketball teams.
The most ridiculous point of the TV program came when Champion discussed women's pay equality with Hill and Chiney Ogwumike, the No. 1 player taken in the 2014 WNBA draft. Ogwumike complained that she only made $60,000 that first season, ignoring the Grand Canyon-sized gap between the revenue generated by the NBA and the WNBA. And we're a very "woke group of women," she exclaimed. Hill stuck out like a sore thumb on this segment. Her net worth is estimated at $5 million.
Michael A. Fletcher, senior writer for The Undefeated, wrote the companion blog, a much more pointed indictment of whites. He didn't hold anything back when he wrote about systemic racism:
"In 2018, King’s tract stands as a beacon to a new generation of activists impatient with injustice perpetuated less by flush-faced bigots than by the ostensibly colorblind institutions that structure our society."
Fletcher says Lecia Brooks, outreach director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, "hears echoes of the white clergymen who accused King of inciting violence in the stinging criticism of NFL players who protested racial inequities by taking a knee during the national anthem." Of course, the SPLC has a financial interest in hearing things, and is no stranger itself to inciting violence.
Birmingham's leadership is black, the city is no longer segregated "and violent racists no longer run amok," Fletcher wrote. The city needs more resources for education and workforce development, he adds. (Raise your hand if you didn't hear this point frequently made by media in the aftermath of Ferguson and Baltimore). Then came a plea for re-distribution of wealth: "The city alone does not have the wealth to pay for those things, and white taxpayers in neighboring communities do not see problems in places like Birmingham’s as theirs."
After all his griping, Fletcher closes by acknowledging progress made in the last 55 years. Nevertheless a lot of people are being left behind and you have to revert back to the unjust policies Dr. King was concerned about. All said, the day's efforts by ESPN and The Undefeated will do little to appease race-baiter athletes and media. Nor will it return disillusioned fans back to the NFL and its broadcasts.