People across the United States are protesting police brutality and systemic racism after George Floyd, a black man, was killed by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. The protests have evolved beyond outrage about Floyd and other black people who have been killed by police, due to law enforcement consistently escalating and inciting violence.
Professional athletes have been speaking up en masse, a trend that’s been building since Trayvon Martin was killed in 2012. Athletes — and particularly black athletes like Muhammad Ali, Tommie Smith and John Carlos — have been putting their careers on the line to speak up for social justice for generations. But the current trend that’s been led by people like Colin Kaepernick, Maya Moore and Megan Rapinoe feels like it truly started with the outrage at Martin’s death, further sparked by the killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, and hundreds more. And following Floyd’s death, it feels like more athletes than ever before are willing to speak out in opposition to police violence and racism.
Meg Linehan of The Athletic spoke to seven United States women’s national team players about the issue, five of them black. At Power Plays, Lindsay Gibbs spoke to NWSL player Tziarra King, plus basketball player Brianna Turner and hockey player Saroya Tinker. I strongly recommend that you take the time to read both of those pieces in their entirety, but this quote from Crystal Dunn really stuck out for me.
“It’s going to take everyone stepping out of their safe space to realize that the world isn’t as safe. And even if it’s safe for you, it’s not safe for everybody. It really is going to take everybody.”
Maybe you’ve been wondering why its professional athletes’ responsibility to speak up about social issues, or what good it can possibly do. And that quote from Dunn really gets at why it’s so important.
Many of us live in bubbles where we spend most of our time interacting with people who share our values, experiences, and world views. It would be very easy for me to have zero interactions with people who did not support Black Lives Matter or demilitarizing police departments for entire weeks at a time if I made a point of it. Tens of millions of Americans consume the media they want to consume, talk to the people they want to talk to, and create an echo chamber where it feels like the Overton Window of acceptable opinions is very narrow.
But as Dunn notes, those of us who believe in equality and ending police brutality are going to have to reach a lot of new people to affect positive change. And I don’t think anyone has a greater opportunity to reach people who are apolitical or on the fence about these issues than pro athletes do. No other people in American society have a wider range of supporters across the political spectrum.
The United States women’s national team has a particularly important voice in this fight as well. While their base of support is extremely diverse, its largest demographic has always been similar to the demographic makeup of elite soccer players in America: upper-middle class, suburban, pretty white, and near the political center. This is a demographic that is often willing to lend its support to various social justice causes, but is relatively unaffected by systemic racism in the justice system and the militarization of police departments. Ticket and jersey-buying USWNT fans are the exact people who need to be convinced that racist and violent policing is a real problem.
According to a study released by Monmouth University on Tuesday, 57 percent of Americans believe that police are more likely to use excessive force against black people. That’s up from 34 percent in 2016. It’s clear that people speaking up on this issue is starting to convince people who were previously on the fence, but there’s still so much work to do.
I encourage you to speak up about racism in the justice system and police violence, and to pressure the athletes you support to do the same, because their voices actually do help to affect change. I’ll close with a link to a list of community support and legal aid funds compiled by my colleague Claire Watkins. I hope that you’ll consider donating if you have the means.
Normally this is where I would talk about ways to find a little relief from the exhausting state of the world right now, and that certainly is important so that we can continue to have the energy to keep educating ourselves and taking action. So yes, please remember to drink water, stretch regularly, rest your eyes from looking at screens, and try to eat a green vegetable. Then come back and go through this amazing Anti-Racist Resource Guide created by anti-racist researcher Victoria Alexander, which contains a lot of jumping-off points to educate yourself on racism and how to engage in anti-racist activism, as well as tons of books, movies, TV, and podcasts for broadening your understanding. If you read the Athletic interview linked above, you’ll know that having conversations and educating people is exhausting, and while the USWNT players interviewed have said that they are willing to talk to the people who come to them in good faith, at the very least we can do research and learn on our own to help relieve some of that burden.
Community question of the week: Is there another great social justice non-profit organization we should know about?
Please let us know in the comments or on Twitter if someone in your community is doing great work and could use our readers’ and writers’ financial support. Take care of yourselves.