In an editorial at Rolling Stone, Martin Luther King III expresses his joy that the “new era of athlete activism,” will help bring about his martyred father’s dreams of racial equality.
In his Sept. 4 piece, MLK III insisted that Colin Kaepernick is a “prophet,” praised the athlete’s’ repeated strikes and boycotts, and yet, claimed that sports “builds community.”
The younger King claimed that when he was ten years old, and his father was assassinated, he was moved by the Pittsburgh Pirates when they refused to play upon learning of the murder of the great civil rights icon.
King recalls that the Pirates’ Roberto Clemente and “his white teammate,” Dave Wickersham, issued a statement saying: “We are doing this because we white and Black players respect what Dr. King has done for mankind.”
The activist remarked on the long history of athlete activism. From baseball, to basketball, to the Olympics, King noted that athletes have been breaking color barriers since the 1950s. But that led him to the “prophet,” Colin Kaepernick.
“Fast forward to 2020, and Kaepernick is now being widely hailed as a prophet among pro athletes for putting his career on the line and making tremendous personal sacrifices to lend his voice to protesting against increasing police brutality against African American citizens,” King exclaimed. “His leadership, along with the brutal slayings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the horrific shooting of Jacob Blake and too many other police atrocities against citizens of color, has helped to inspire more athlete activism.
“Today we are seeing wildcat strikes, game postponements, team knee-taking, moments of silence honoring victims and prayers for their families and even team marches in support of the Black Lives Matter Movement in professional and amateur sports, including football, basketball, major league baseball, pro soccer, tennis, and hockey to name a few,” King said.
King then praised “superstar LeBron James,” who recently launched his More Than A Vote organization to increase voter turnout in inner-city precincts.
The 62-year-old former SPLC chief then called those who disagree with his political agenda “short-sighted” and “narrow-minded,” and attacked those who oppose the avalanche of athlete activism washing over all of professional sports today.
“Of course, some short-sighted fans and narrow-minded politicians argue that pro athletes should stay out of social change movements and stick to playing their respective sports, as if their sole function in life was to entertain the public,” King exploded. “But these athletes are also caring human beings and, thankfully, conscientious citizens — who know that young people look to them for hope and inspiration. They have chosen to use their influence in a positive way, to call for an end to racial violence and police brutality. I am grateful for their leadership.”
King proceeded to prove that he completely misunderstands why the constant player activism is off-putting.
“Professional sports is one of our nation’s great institutions, not only because of the enjoyment it brings to our families and communities. It is also one of the few social arenas, where Americans of different races, religions, and cultures come together to share fellowship and goodwill,” King wrote.
“Professional sports builds community across racial lines every day, all across the nation, and the creative leadership of these athlete activists carries forward that noble tradition,” King added.
But that goodwill dissipates when millionaire players are telling white fans that their “silence equals violence,” and that the country is irredeemably racist. That is a way to divide, not “share goodwill and fellowship.”
All the extreme activism on behalf of hundreds of players across so many leagues, Kings says, is a way to fulfill his father’s legacy.
“When professional athletes speak out about racial injustice, they get the attention of young people in a way that politicians can’t match,” King wrote. “When they articulate a vision of community that offers respect and love for all people, it matters. And when they ground their call to community in collective action, they gain credibility.”
One has to wonder just how effective it is, though, when every last athlete speaks out on politics? When heroes such as Hank Aaron and Muhammad Ali were standing among a few contemporaries and drawing attention to social issues, their voices were powerful. But when every player is vying for the spotlight to show how much they care about politics, their voices seem lost in the din.
When everyone is “speaking out,” whose voice is being heard?
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Facebook at: facebook.com/Warner.Todd.Huston.