By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
A series of events can be an accurate predictor of future events or some larger societal shift; they can also be misleading samples that disguise an undercurrent of surfacing truth. In this case, the latter is true.
Over the summer, a piece appeared in this column titled, “The Declining Consequence of Sports.” In it, the confused writer/psychic – me – mulled the post-election environment and expressed displeasure in the sports world’s lack of organized resistance against a wave of top-down behavior that seemed committed to eviscerating all vestiges of human decency.
That was August. It’s not August anymore.
This idiot got it wrong, thankfully - totally and undeniably wrong. Since President Trump’s inflammatory “SOB” comment at a recent rally, sporting events are teeming with thought-provoking acts and athletes’ social media accounts are firing off political protests.
Whatever you think of the recent response, the consequence of sports in our society has been dramatically reasserted. Sports, as frequently has in the last century, is again serving as a catalyst for the discussion – no matter how uncomfortable - of liberties unconditionally extended to Americans but not equally enjoyed by all Americans.
While debating things like anthem protests, remember this fact: The actions by the sports world are rooted in the racism that still exists. Every interlocked arm and player on a knee is a reaction to a series of disturbing events in this country and the growing post-election acrimony that has been aided and abetted by candidate and now President Trump’s proud divisiveness. When you are consistently disrespected by an unrepentant leader and brazenly referred to as a SOB for expressing your thoughts on your professional platform (football field) by a man preaching from his professional platform (the presidency), it would be decidedly un-American to cower in passive silence.
Politics, protest and tweets aside, most of us are quietly horrified by the trajectory of the rancor; this pace can’t be maintained until November 2020. With the Civil Rights Movement and Vietnam War 40 to 50-plus years behind us, this is likely the most divided United States most Americans have experienced. It is troubling, no matter one’s political persuasions.
So now what? Where do we go from here?
In struggling with those questions and how to distill them into a coherent, actionable (at a modest, personal level) thought, I caught a pre-season interview with long-time San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. It was an odd place to find answers to such complex questions, but these are strange times. Popovich can be a fascinating interview when properly stoked, so when a reporter ignored the boring basketball script and asked for his perspective on this time where politics and sports are intertwined, it prompted a lengthy, on-the-spot monologue bursting with wisdom.
Popovich acknowledged these difficult times, the racism, the sexism, the fear-mongering and race-baiting. He noted the source of the division and lamented how far the bar of decency has been lowered.
And then Popovich offered this big-perspective, call to action: “We can continue to bounce our heads off the wall…or we can decide the institutions of our country are more important, that people are more important, that the decent America that we all thought we had and want is more important and get down to business at the grass roots level and do what we have to do.”
It is worth a watch in its entirety. Popovich, an Air Force veteran, five-time NBA champion and three-time NBA coach of the year, is now a life-whisperer. He captured exactly where we are and the challenge we face as fellow Americans and human beings - that is to rise above the childish, defensive rhetoric and commit to constructive dialogue, understanding, listening and interacting with shocking decency. This is how the teardown ends and the rebuild begins. This is how we find our footing, how we rediscover our shared American values and how we begin to re-stitch this recklessly and intentionally frayed mess. An unprecedented wedge is being driven between us from the top down. It’s time to start pushing back, in unison, from the bottom up.
Thanks for the clarity, Coach Pop.
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