Andrew Hawkins isn’t an NFL star — not in the sense of how we, sports fans, judge stardom. Hawkins won’t make anybody think he’s the second coming of Calvin Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald.
But let’s not use that yardstick to judge Hawkins, a 28-year-old wide receiver with the Cleveland Browns. Let’s judge him the way we should judge any man who stands up for an injustice — a Black man who takes a public stance when it might be to his advantage to remain silent.
Hawkins ran onto the sparkling green turf Sunday at First Energy Stadium in Cleveland wearing a black T-shirt that had these words stamped on the front in white letters: “Justice for Tamir Rice and John Crawford.”
“Deep down,” he said afterward, “I felt like it was the right thing to do. If I was to run away from what I felt in my soul was the right thing to do, that would make me a coward. I can’t live with that.”
Men who put their livelihoods at risk are the real heroes. Oh, some of those men are cops and firefighters; some are soldiers; some are just ordinary citizens who do extraordinary things.
Catching a football isn’t one of those things.
But standing up for a purpose, lending your voice to a cause while so many people around remain silent, is heroic.
Yet that’s not what Black athletes have done. OK, LeBron James made a statement about the senseless killings of Black men. But he’s LeBron, and he risked nothing. Did anybody think LeBron’s comments about Ferguson, Missouri, would earn him a censor from the NBA?
But stars have been too slow to step into the arena of public discord. They look at their big contracts and avoid having to jeopardize the millions they are set to earn for playing a game.
Put in the same situation as a rich, famous athlete, most Americans might pick silence over the withering criticism they’d face for allowing their heart to guide their thinking on a hot-button issue.
Hawkins conceded that point. He told the journalists who gathered around him to hear his monologue the other day — a monologue that went viral — that he never sought the notoriety his black T-shirt brought him. Hawkins, a father of a 2-year-old, never saw himself as the face of a movement.
Hawkins was quick to stress, however, that those Black boys who died at the hands of cops could have been his. Someone needed to speak up about what happened to them on the streets of a U.S. city. Hawkins took on that duty; he hasn’t regretted it.
Nor should others. For to ask any Black athlete not to speak his mind about an injustice is to ask too much of him.
“A call for justice shouldn’t offend or disrespect anybody,” Hawkins said. “A call for justice shouldn’t warrant an apology.”
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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(Photo: Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire/Corbis)
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