Over the past few weeks, athletes have made their own personal statements in support of the protests about Mike Brown and Eric Garner. The Rams had a powerful “hands up, don’t shoot” intro and both LeBron and Derrick Rose have worn “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts. This is their right to do as human beings living in a country with First Amendment protection.
Some sports fans haven’t taken kindly to these athletes speaking their mind. One Facebook group with 25,000 fans is calling for a “ban” of the St. Louis Rams. Others, like Geraldo Rivera, are saying ridiculously condescending things expressing their outrage towards the athletes, with the overwhelming takeaway being “shut up and play.”
In a column at Sports Illustrated, Cleveland Browns player Johnson Bademosi penned a pretty powerful essay about why he has a right to support social justice causes. It underlines how the “shut up and play” attitude removes all the humanity from professional athletes, who have just as much of a First Amendment to speak their mind:
It was with all of this in mind that I drove to First Energy Stadium on Sunday morning. The night before, Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls wore a T-shirt reading “I Can’t Breathe” during pregame warm-ups. Those were Eric Garner’s last words before a New York City police officer put him in a chokehold and Garner died in the confrontation with multiple officers. The dispute began over Garner’s selling loose cigarettes. In an effort to express my anger, fear and feelings of solidarity with those who took to the streets, I wrote those same words—“I Can’t Breathe”—on the back of my own warm-up T-shirt.
As I wore it in the locker room before taking the field in pregame, some guys automatically knew what it meant and supported me. Others didn’t understand the message and asked about it, and I was happy to explain. After all, awareness was the original goal. I received a couple of side eyes, too, from men who didn’t agree with what the words stood for. I had teammates in the locker room telling me, “Man, you’ve got to be careful with all that.” And with most issues, I am. But exceptional circumstances require exceptions to be made. I considered this to be exceptional.
When athletes step into the social sphere and express opinions on issues outside of sports, we’re often met with one of two reactions. The majority of people thank us for peeling back the curtain on identities shrouded by uniforms. A small minority of people respond with what amounts to “Shut up and play.” These are the same people who buy jerseys and tickets to games, or watch religiously on television. They help pay our salaries, and because of that they think they have a right to tell us what we can and can’t say, essentially, what kind of men we ought to be. A lot of fans wear the jersey, and they consider it costume, not representative of a human being. Some support us as players but not as men. That the league is predominantly African-American helps explain why. I’m happy to say I don’t want you as a fan if that’s how you think.
Read the full column over at Sports Illustrated…