12/12/14 by Matthew S. Vandriak
In the wake of protests across the country in reaction to the deaths at the hands of police of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, some professional athletes have come out with their own form of protest. Players in the NBA and in the NFL wore shirts with the phrase "I Can't Breathe" on them as a show of support for Garner. The words were spoken by Garner when he was being choked by a New York police officer, which ultimately led to his death. Members of the St. Louis Rams came out with their hands raised to symbolize the "Hands Up, Don't Shoot" that has been the rallying cry in the case of Brown. I understand these athletes believe they are trying to do right with this. Some may even feel it's their duty to do this since they are in the spotlight of the professional sports world. But that world is not the place for this.
The deaths of Brown and Garner, who were both black, at the hands of white police officers who were not indicted in their deaths, have fanned the flames of racism and police brutality into an inferno that has swept across the nation. It has led to many divided opinions on those subjects as well. It has also stirred emotions and anger for people on both sides. Many feel the death of Eric Garner was police brutality at it's most extreme form. Many feel that the shooting of Michael Brown was an act of racism. However, there are many others who feel that the officer who shot Brown was justified in his actions. Hence, there is a divide between those people, and that divide is fueled by emotions as well. I understand that the athletes participating in their own form of protest are trying to show support in their own way. But that's not what professional sports is for.
People watch sports or go to sporting events to get away from the negatives of every day life. Sports for many is a few hours to escape reality and just enjoy the event. In a world that is full of problems and issues, sports allows the fans a place to go that is free of those problems and issues. By athletes getting involved in these matters and using their respective sports arenas and stadiums as a stage for their position on these matters, they are bringing the troubles of the outside world into a place that people go to get away from those troubles. Nobody is going to forget what is going on across the country in either of these cases. Even if you tried to, mainstream media is forcing it down your throat whether you like it or not. There is really no need for this to be a part of professional sports. It causes a divide between fans and players if they have differing views on the matter. It causes a divide between fans with differing views on the matter. It brings unnecessary tension into a place where people go to get away from that stuff. And it causes a divide between fans in these cities and the police, who had nothing to do with either of incidents.
I'm not saying in any way that I feel the police were right in either case. And I'm not saying that because they're professional athletes, they don't have the right to show support or protest in these cases. But I am saying there is no place for it on game day. If LeBron James wants to lead a rally in Cleveland and feels his status will help raise awareness of police brutality or racism in his city, by all means he should do that. On his own time and away from his league and his team. If those players on the Rams want to show solidarity with the protesters in Missouri, they should join them on the streets. But they should not be doing it on the field before their game.
While professional athletes do have a spotlight on them, there are certain things that don't need to be brought into that spotlight. Police across the country are facing a lot of scrutiny in the wakes of these two cases. Police in cities that have nothing to do with this are being looked at in a different light now. But not all police are bad. Not all cops are racist. There are a lot more good cops than there are bad ones in this country. Just like not all NFL players are wife beaters. There are a lot more NFL players who respect women and value their families than those who have been involved in instances of domestic violence.
I'm sure many athletes in both the NBA and NFL have unique perspectives about what happened in both cases, and some may even be able to relate to them personally. I think those stories should be shared and those opinions should be given, but in the proper arena. And that arena is not the one their game is being played in.
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