Commentary: Where Are the Voices of Black Athletes About Ferguson?

Killing of unarmed teen continues disturbing trend of cops shooting first, asking questions later.

Posted: 08/20/2014 11:56 AM EDT
Commentary: Where Is the Voice of Black Athletes About Ferguson?

The story is one too familiar for Black men who grow up in large metropolitan areas. You know how it goes: Cop shoots unarmed Black suspect; details to come once police officials can spin the account in the cop’s favor.

So what’s happened in Ferguson, Mo., surprises none of us. While the cold-blooded killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown is tragic, Brown’s death just adds to the body count of Black men whose blood has spilled onto the streets.

“Kids like Trayvon Martin or Michael Brown become known for dying at the hand of white authorities,” broadcast journalist Bryant Gumbel said on his HBO show Tuesday night. “But more often than not they remain faceless victims of senseless violence ... ”

The Black residents of Ferguson are rightly outraged by it. Some of them have carried their rage onto the streets of this town on the edge of St. Louis. Yes, we understand their raw emotions, even though we might not support their rioting and looting. Who burns down his own community?

Yet at least they have turned their rage into some sort of action, and that’s more than we can say for professional athletes.

These men were quick to jump on Donald Sterling for his racism; they’ve been slow or silent altogether in standing up and speaking out about a killing that should never have happened.

Look, we understand that each story has three sides: the right, the wrong and the truth. The truth doesn’t fall into our laps, as we sadly discovered in the Trayvon killing in Florida. We have to work to find the truth, and even then it can be as slippery as a rattlesnake.

Still, as we move toward better understanding, we do know enough to see where the outrage comes from. What we know, to be sure, deserves the sort of public condemnation that we heard aimed toward Sterling.

No doubt, Sterling was an easier target. He was old; he was rich; and he had a public pattern of unjust treatment of people of color. For that, athletes spoke of boycotts and the like if something dramatic wasn’t done to get Sterling out of the NBA.

The strategy worked. He’s gone. He’s gone because the players didn’t accept apologies and excuses when a white man abased them in ways that can hardly be forgiven.

But what white cops are doing to Black men in Ferguson, New York City, Miami and elsewhere is unforgivable as well. It’s no accident that a disproportionate number of Black men make their homes in penitentiaries. It’s no accident that, statistically speaking, they are more likely to face a wrongful conviction than a white man of the same age.

Statistics are damning, and they can be fiddled with to make a case for all sorts of misconduct or abuse. Pushing those statistics aside might be better than leaning on them for validation.

For validation isn’t needed. We know that. We know it because we see this injustice toward our Black brethren played out too often for it to be a statistical glitch.

And because it’s not a glitch, we can’t remain silent in the face of another tragedy that a white cop was at the business end of. We must demand that those Black men whose public profiles make them our heroes earn our hero-worship by doing something that might risk alienating them from the white masses.

At some point—and this is that point—Black athletes like Doc Rivers, LeBron James, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley and Torii Hunter must stand as a Black president did. They must insist that no more cop killings of unarmed Black men will be tolerated.

They should tell anybody who cares to listen that, in America, our cops should not be firing bullets at men who dare to be strong, self-assured and Black.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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(Photos from Left: Earl Gibson III/Getty Images, Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images, Steve Sands/GC Images)

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