Thomas Griffin 5/4/21 (For Crisis Magazine)
ESPN recently published an article about the Derek Chauvin verdict which graded the manner in which professional sports leagues kept their promises following the death of George Floyd. Specifically, how have they fought against racism and systemic violence of police toward African Americans? Several leagues and many players called out race as the determining factor in Floyd’s death; they decided to work toward abolishing it by employing politics and divisive tactics.
Almost immediately following the death of Floyd last year, the NBA enlisted warm-up gear with the large emboldened slogan, #BlackLivesMatter, along with placing the slogan on the most prominent part of the court when viewing games on television. Players were also free to place a phrase from an approved list on the back of their jersey, expressing their views on systemic racism in America. Players could choose from “BLM,” “Peace,” “Equality,” “I Can’t Breathe,” and other words that portrayed to the world their beliefs.
Many players spoke about how their public platform gave them the right and ability to speak on these matters. However, their words were often tainted with illogical statements and more divisive rhetoric. Our society accepts this without deliberately contemplating what we are signing off on. The ability to succeed at your sport, or any career for that matter, does not automatically make you an expert on civil matters or police reform.
As Catholics, we are always called to stand up for human dignity and fight against real threats to human rights. ESPN’s desire to fight for change and eradicate evil is a great thing, but the faithful are called upon to build up the Kingdom of God in both motive and action. We are asked to stand in solidarity with others but to also abide in the truth.
Often, Catholics are given the response that they do not have the right to speak on certain topics because faith is a private matter for the individual. We are told that we should stay in our corner while countless personalities from the spotlight cast statements that are not founded in fact and simply express the same godless views we hear ad nauseam. Recent news from the sports world shows that anyone can express an opinion…as long as it goes along with the mainstream mode of reasoning.
All of these movements are misguided, not in the virtue of their cause but in their genesis. This is true whether we are talking about the NHL’s commitment to graphics on their skates, the NFL’s “End Racism” slogan, or the NCAA’s move to create “an inclusion webpage with various links to issues the organization has addressed since Floyd’s death, including a list of goals to advance racial justice and equity.” There has been a completely fabricated but indissoluble connection between George Floyd and racism. However, there is nothing—not one strand of evidence—pointing to its validity. That is why it was never mentioned in the Chauvin trial.
The facts would show that these organizations and the people behind these newest causes in our sports leagues either ignorantly or willfully choose to divide the nation over race. In all honesty, I do not know what the correct answer is. And I will not accuse others of being something they might not be, unlike these causes who claim that cops, and the majority of Americans, need to be taught that they are bigoted racists. The question concerning ignorance or division does need to be posed because hardly anyone in the media is questioning these movements when we know that race did not kill Mr. Floyd.
Recently, LeBron James’ posted a tweet picturing a police officer who shot and killed a 16-year-old girl named Ma’Khia Bryant. In the tweet by “The King,” he provides a picture of the cop and boldly states: “YOU’RE NEXT #ACCOUNTABILITY.”
The police officer was white and the victim was black. An important fact is that Bryant had a knife and was swinging it toward another girl attempting to assault or even kill her, and the police officer saved her life. James was implying that this officer should also receive a guilty verdict in court, like Derek Chauvin, because he must be a racist cop. James deleted his anger-filled and illogical tweet not long after it was posted, but it reached millions of people.
LeBron later commented about his deleted tweet, stating that he only removed it because it was “spreading more hate.” Yes, LeBron, it was, because you seemingly wanted to spread hate. Essentially, he doubled down on his original tweet by later saying, “this is not about one cop.” Admittedly, it appears that James cannot and will not care about the individual officer he smeared in the process. We are asked to accept that a person’s life should be shattered because they were doing their job and wearing a badge (i.e., protecting human life).
James has consistently been on the frontlines of political and social issues for years now. Here, however, we see that he does not commit to learning what actually happened and that he cannot speak intelligently about any issue under the sun. Investigation into statistics and the study of the circumstances must always have the pride of place when viewing issues of race, policing, or anything that involves protecting the human person. LeBron simply has not shown that he does either.
The MLB also made a run in politics and pulled the race card by removing its All-Star game from Georgia because of what it considered a racist voting law. The bill was viewed as such because it demands voting ID laws that require citizens to know how to get their driver’s license or social security number. Major League Baseball’s statement on the matter explained they were moving the game “to protest a new Georgia law that Democrats and voting rights groups say will disproportionately disenfranchise voters of color.”
Here, the MLB makes the ridiculous and explicit claim that all Republicans are racist and Democrats are for racial equality. Not to mention that these same groups are basically stating that minorities (which account for the majority of players in the MLB) are not capable of finding their driver’s license or social security numbers. And yet, they say other people are racist.
Again, we see a sports league and individuals being either ignorant or willfully choosing to divide the nation. The entire piece by ESPN exclaims the same erroneous claims and essentially commits the fallacy of LeBron James’ tweet. There is no connection between racism and Mr. Floyd’s death. His death was a tragedy that should not have occurred, but it was not the result of racism.
Rather than allow for a reasonable debate on important topics of race and voting, we are told that only one stance is acceptable. Whether Catholics are sports fans or not, we should see these awful attacks on reason and freedom as epically dangerous. When only one side has a monopoly on the truth, but their claims are not factual, we must call it out and not be afraid of what comes along with standing in the gap between what is right and true and what is divisive and false.
Sports leagues, players, and all citizens across the board should either do their homework or not voice their opinions in such a public manner on these matters. Everyone has the right to speak up, but not everyone will automatically be correct in their statements. If these players and organizations desire to impact change for the better in our country, they ought to start with knowing the facts and by refusing to be led by politics that divides.
Catholics can lead the way in the march for justice for all by uniting in prayer for the healing of our country and by using their voices to stand with the facts, the most important fact being that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, the life, and the only One who can renew the face of the earth.
Thomas Griffin teaches at a Catholic high school on Long Island and lives with his wife and son. He received a master’s degree in theology and is currently a master’s candidate in philosophy. He writes for several Catholic media outlets.
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