Activism, Sports And Feeling Angry As A Fan

It’s been one hellacious time in the United States of America.

After observing the "die-in" at Grand Central Terminal on Wednesday night in wake of another dark day for the American judicial system, I heard someone we’d liken to a stereotypical New York "dudebro" sardonically ask if the protesters could “protest a little faster” and not interfere with his commute to whatever post-work drunken revelry he probably took part in. The impulse to scream at him and possibly throw a haymaker was strong, but the reality of my own skin tone and the sight of multiple police officers made me unclench my fists.

What the obnoxious but perhaps empathetic man did, however, was remind me of an expired axiom many of us now in our 20s and 30s heard growing up.

When some of us '80s babies were coming of age through the 1990s, a few misinformed elders would tell us that our generation has never been through anything. However, the last decade and a half has taken that assumption and absolutely thrown it out of the window.

We can name the moments as easily as we can rattle off our favorite team’s championship years. The bursting of the dot-com bubble. 9/11. The Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. The D.C. sniper. Hurricane Katrina (and Rita). The financial collapse of 2008/09. The housing bubble. TARP. Gabby Giffords. Aurora. Sandy Hook. The Arab Spring.

The election of Barack Obama. The re-election of Barack Obama.

With a click of your mouse or changing of channels, you don’t even have to leave home to be reminded of what your communities have gone through since Y2K. And these are only matters that are reported by some form of media.

People of my generation — Millennials, Generation Y or whatever you wish to call us — have been witnesses, culprits and victims to so much in the last 14 years that “who done f***ed up now?” could be the unofficial Millennial slogan. However, the events of this era have compelled forms of service, questioning and, most of all, activism that have dispelled the notion that this is a generation that “hasn’t been through hard times.”

I am not an activist in the literal sense of the word. As the son of parents who did more than march and picket, but worked with as well as against those whose minds needed to be changed, I never believed that I could do that word any justice by walking exactly the same steps they had. At the same time, I could never label myself as an agitator or revolutionary; a path to social change embraced by several former classmates whose strong and stirring rhetoric shakes the senses, even when you disagree with the approach.

Even yesterday morning, a dear friend of mine who works in education asked if I would be among those protesters walking the streets of New York in the wake of the decision to not indict Daniel Pantaleo over the death of Eric Garner. Though the pull was strong, the fingers moved quicker towards the keyboard than the feet stepped towards my adidas.

It may be an incredibly naïve way of thinking, but despite the power of these protests we have seen recently, I believe that marching in the streets is far from the only way to take part in activism against the systematic failures of American society. Our workplaces, schools and other public arenas are the institutions we are changing, but they are also the places where we arm ourselves with tools necessary to fight the battles. Mastering or at least understanding the business, academic and legal methods used in the marginalization of people raises the playing field more, even at a glacial pace.

Not everyone will use a jackhammer to break the walls, but those with chisels will create even more cracks. Those cracks come from conversations with colleagues, neighbors and friends; these interactions are where we have to work incredibly hard to change the culture. After all, we co-sign the decisions of the powers that be through the opinions we’ve developed over time.

Alas, you are reading words from a mediocre sports scribe whose heart grows heavy for his beloved city.

I understand that few will ever see those who speak about win shares, crossovers and sneaker deals in the same vein of activism as those who dare to stop traffic to display their frustration, stage individual protests after crossing county borders or boldly asks ESPN this question. Those few who make a living as sports media personalities have platforms that allow them to make anything on their minds a needle-moving topic (especially when done in a provocative way). The rest of us who are whittling away without the larger spotlights echo similar sentiments, but depending on the outlet or audience, may have more freedom to speak about different angles. This is because many of us are not plying the trade for vertically integrated media companies that are dependent on advertising, cable subscription fees and the volatile nature of the stock market.

Because sports have mostly served as test labs for whom society at-large is begrudgingly willing to accept — non-whites, women, the LGBT community — there has always been a demand for the participants to make statements in solidarity with whichever side of history a group chooses to be on. The “stick to sports” crowd bellows because for a moment, these athletes won’t shut up and play on demand like dummies for ventriloquists. The “athletes don’t take a stand anymore” crowd screams at someone with a growing profile because (s)he might actually consider some inhibitor to speaking out other than Q scores and endorsement potential. The aggrieved range between asking for saviors, begging for martyrs or just praying nothing goes wrong. The offended want to spite the nose in order to save the alleged beauty of the face.

These sports figures come from the same communities we do, whether in relative affluence, middling standards of living or sheer struggle. Their degrees of fame may change their beliefs on how the world works, but regardless of their prominence in public, they are not all that removed from the dark realities of a turbulent society. In the recent decisions handed down in Staten Island and Ferguson (with more on the way), black and brown athletes are feeling something. Whatever that something is tends to be shaped by where they grew up, where they are today and where they will be when their sports careers are over.

And those of us in sports media feel something, too.

Some of you reading this right now may want us to “stick to sports” on this site, and we will because sports are the greatest social currency we have. Yet, social strife sure as hell doesn’t wait for convenient times to get our attention. Sticking to traditional analysis, hot takes and takes on the hot takes has to be sidelined when we are all feeling … something. Maybe we feel like screaming, or maybe we want to write. Maybe we want to hurl a rock, or maybe we just want to cry.

Yet, no matter what any of us feel, maybe we can all be activists from this day forward.

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