For more than 30 years, the most powerful cultural force in American sports, Nike, has encouraged athletes to Just Do It.
Colin Kaepernick followed Nike’s advice four years ago. He sat on the bench during the playing of the national anthem. After a conversation with a former Green Beret, Kaepernick changed to taking a knee.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick explained in late August of 2016. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
The former 49ers quarterback has never been asked to articulate a list of demands or formulate a strategy for correcting the racial oppression he sees. He’s been celebrated for raising awareness around rare instances of police-involved shootings of black men.
Four years later to the day, the Milwaukee Bucks joined Kaepernick’s Just Do It social justice movement. As a means of protesting the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the Bucks refused to take the court Wednesday afternoon against the Orlando Magic.
Milwaukee’s abstention shut down the NBA Bubble, caused the cancellation of three Major League Baseball games and marked August 26, 2020 as a sports day that will live in infamy.
A 20-second viral video of police shooting a resisting criminal suspect wanted for sexual assault did what the Zapruder film could not. Jacob Blake halted sports. The NFL played on in the aftermath of President John F. Kennedy’s televised assassination.
Just Do It.
The 1988 Nike slogan drives the logic of professional athletes — old and young.
“I’m very proud of the players,” NBA star-turned-TNT broadcaster Chris Webber said Wednesday night in an emotional, widely-praised defense of the work stoppage. “I don’t know the next steps. Don’t really care what the next steps are because the first steps are to garner attention. And they have everybody’s attention around the world right now.”
The Just Do It slogan was inspired by the last words of confessed double-murderer Gary Gilmore, who responded “let’s do it” when seated before a firing squad in 1977. Nike, the Portland-based shoe manufacturer, wanted a rebellious, counter-culture advertising campaign to reach young people. What’s more rebellious than the last words of a murderer?
“We know nothing is gonna change,” Webber continued. “We get it. Martin Luther King got shot and risked his life… We’ve seen this in all of our heroes constantly taken down. We understand that it’s not gonna end.”
Just Say It. Anything. It doesn’t have to make sense. You can inadvertently compare the killing of Martin Luther King to the shooting of Jacob Blake and the death of George Floyd. Just Do It.
The truth doesn’t matter. Strategy doesn’t matter.
“But that does not mean young men that you don’t do anything,” Webber continued. “Don’t listen to these people telling you don’t don’t do anything because it’s not gonna end right away. You are starting something for the next generation and the next generation to take over.”
I think Chris Webber is well-intentioned. He’s trapped inside the same bubble and echo chamber as the players. Long before they were all sequestered at Disney World, black professional athletes immersed themselves inside Nike’s China-approved, LeBron James and Colin Kaepernick-constructed social justice bubble. Inside that bubble all criticism of Kaepernick and James is dismissed as racism or race betrayal. Inside that bubble the actions of a police officer struggling to subdue a resisting black criminal suspect is reflective of how America feels about black people.
“It’s amazing why we keep loving this country,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said Tuesday, “and this country does not love us back.”
When police shoot or kill a black criminal suspect it explains how America feels about black people? When police kill a white criminal suspect does it explain how America feels about white people?
We have to break from thought bubbles, the social media silos that confirm our worst biases about the opposite race.
The NBA Bubble is toxic. It was bound to burst, bound to foment racial animus. The Bubble is a museum dedicated to defining America as inherently racist and demonizing anyone who questions the sanity of analyzing a nation through the lens of police engagement with resisting suspects.
This is the consequence of injecting politics into sports. Politics is inherently partisan, divisive, dishonest, racially exploitive and destructive. Politics blinds. The fight for political power erases the humanity of the opposition. Politics uses fear to inspire voters.
“Black men, black women, black kids, we are terrified,” LeBron James, who is leading a Democractic voter-registration drive, said a day after watching the Jacob Blake video.
James, Rivers and Webber are all good men. They are trapped in the bubble of hate that has captured a large swath of black and white Americans during this election cycle. The mainstream media and social media financially capitalize on the hate bubbles they promote and exploit.
NBA players have reportedly agreed to resume play in the coming days. The cancellation of the NBA season might have been best for sports and America. The isolation of the NBA Bubble accentuates the racial divide and encourages the irresponsible Just Do It mentality.
Chris Webber and other athletes need to engage with people who don’t share their worldview, people who reject the Just Do It mantra.
If there’s no plan, there’s no progress. If there’s no strategy, there’s no progress.
Rather than a pointless gesture designed to “garner attention” or organizing protests designed to seek “justice” for a resisting criminal suspect, why can’t we encourage black professional athletes to pool their economic resources and invest in black communities?
Jobs combat racism far more than destroying sports leagues that employ and compensate black men. Black professional athletes could start banks and businesses that dramatically improve black communities.
Athletes shouldn’t listen to the well-intentioned people who tell them to just do anything. Just doing it accomplishes nothing of value. It’s the philosophy of a confessed double-murderer sitting before a firing squad.
You can take the advice of Gary Gilmore or consider mine. Your choice.
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