The world is quickly changing. Maya Moore is leading. Thousands of athletes are following. And even Lil’ Danny Snyder might have to get out of the way.
While the return of sports remains medically and ethically problematic, the return of athletes to the public forum could be transformative. We need LeBron James in front of a microphone right now, as America grapples with racism.
Reflect on all that has happened in sports of late.
Moore, having interrupted one of the greatest careers in American sports history, freed a falsely accused man from prison.
The NCAA and SEC, at the urging of outspoken college athletes, promised to not hold events in any state that flies the Confederate flag. This policy was aimed directly at Mississippi, which subsequently promised to alter its state flag to remove the Confederate symbol.
Two lesbian athletes hosted the ESPYs, wearing “Black Lives Matter” shirts.
Most players in the NWSL took a knee during the national anthem when their league returned to play nine days ago. Many of them wore “Black Lives Matter” shirts.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said he would “encourage” a team to sign Colin Kaepernick, who was blackballed from the league for taking a knee during the national anthem.
Former Lynx player Renee Montgomery became one of the athletes deciding to skip a season to devote herself to social justice.
Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve joined her peers in spending a month discussing only social justice in the wake of George Floyd’s death, and officials representing Twin Cities sports teams posed with signs reading “Black Lives Matter.”
The Twins removed the statue of former owner Calvin Griffith, a confirmed racist.
And, as a reminder of our country’s inability to align its stated values with its inherent racism, “Hamilton” became available on Disney Plus. The play features one exchange in which Alexander Hamilton lectures Thomas Jefferson on the South’s willing dependence on slave labor.
“Hey, neighbor,” the line goes, “your debts are paid ’cause you don’t pay for labor.”
And in the most overdue and yet shocking development in the overlapping worlds of sport and civil rights, Daniel Snyder, owner of the Washington football team with the racist nickname, said he would conduct a “thorough review” of the name, and the Cleveland Indians followed suit.
Of course, Snyder reacted only after FedEx, which owns the naming rights of the team’s stadium, requested the name change, and “thorough review” sounds like a public-relations maneuver to buy time. You don’t need to review the word “Redskins” any more than you would need to review any overt racial slur.
Still, a world in which Snyder would even consider a name change is different than the one that existed before Floyd’s killing.
The sports world is facing the same reckonings as the rest of America, choosing between symbols and humans. Statues are falling and awareness is rising, however belatedly.
Athletes are perfectly positioned to lead during this time. They, more so than many other Americans, work intimately with people of other skin colors and backgrounds.
Here are a few suggestions for a sports world that is rapidly changing for the better:
• 1. If you’re going to make everyone stand for a song before sporting events, add another.
Follow the national anthem with “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which is known as the Black national anthem. It will be played before all Week 1 NFL games this season.
Or, if you prefer, use Ray Charles’ “America the Beautiful,” perhaps the best performance of any patriotic song in our country’s history.
America is supposed to be about equality. Sports are supposed to be meritocracies. Speaking musically, if the national anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and “American the Beautiful” were judged at a competition, our national anthem would be lucky to finish third.
• 2. As suggested by former Atlanta great Dale Murphy, baseball’s Most Valuable Player awards should be named after the great Frank Robinson, not racist former commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis. Robinson is the only player to win MVP awards in both leagues. He also managed multiple teams in both leagues.
• 3. Place a statue of Moore in downtown Minneapolis. Maybe where Calvin Griffith’s used to be.