Race, Risks, and Revolutions

What happened in Missouri today cannot be overstated and should not be viewed as an isolated event: rather, it should be viewed as another chapter in the annals of American history on race.
–Lori Martin

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Race, Risks, and Revolutions

By Lori Latrice Martin

Don’t get it twisted. Sports are not just about entertainment. Athletes–Black athletes in particular–are not the emotionless, apolitical freaks of nature that dominate the imaginations–and the headlines–of far too many people and media outlets in this country. On college campuses–including in big-time, high-revenue generating programs–they do not live in bubbles where they are isolated from other students of color, or from the larger Black community. Many Black college student-athletes at predominantly White institutions maintain a sense of solidarity and racial consciousness with other students of color and with communities of color more broadly.

Like many college students they understand that speaking out against injustices comes with many potential risks. The risks may range from discomfort in classroom settings to disciplinary charges that could lead to expulsion and the derailment of one’s academic goals. Student-athletes engaging in activities that challenge the status quo and shed light on unequal treatment may also risk losing playing time and scholarships. Student-athletes engaged in activism may speed up the expiration date on a lifelong commitment to a sport. They could potentially end their hopes and dreams of playing at the highest level of sports in the U.S., or some other country.

There comes a time when people are inspired (or provoked) to join together for the purpose of tackling tough issues, so that everyone impacted can not only exist, but also thrive.

Many of the students, faculty, and staff simply said, “Enough is enough.” They recognized the risks. They also had a sense of history and they understood the potential rewards. They understood that they could make a difference like the students integrating the college in 1950, for which the group of student-activists were named. They also understood the power of boycotts to compel people in positions of power to do what is right–not only by making them acknowledge or renounce their privilege–but by the threat of a boycott.

In 1953, the residents of Baton Rouge staged a bus boycott. The economic toll on the city’s transportation system that resulted from more than 70 percent of the ridership walking, taking private cars, or taxis, led to change. The boycott served as a model for the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott. More recently, the threat of a boycott by players in a predominantly Black league, undoubtedly led the owners of the NBA to remove Clippers owner, Donald Sterling. The willingness of the members of the football team in Missouri to do the same is credited with placing the final nail in the academic coffin of the university’s president.

People united for a purpose, who understand the risks and the rewards bring about revolutions. What happened in Missouri today cannot be overstated and should not be viewed as an isolated event: rather, it should be viewed as another chapter in the annals of American history on race. It should serve as a lesson for understanding that Black Lives Matter is not merely a catchy hashtag, nor is it an easily identifiable group made up of card carrying members. Black Lives Matter is the national anthem of generations of foot soldiers committed to closing the gap between society as it is and society as it should be.

Lori Martin is an associate professor at Louisiana State University. She is the image author of White Sports/Black Sports and editor of Out of Bounds: Racism and the Black Athlete.

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Comments
One Response to “Race, Risks, and Revolutions”
  1. Eileen B. Kennedy says:

    Right on target, Lori and I hear your call/cry for UNITY, again, in all that we do, if we are to expect ATTENTION and CHANGE!!!!!

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