I could stick to baseball. Or movies. Or music. But not right now.
I am going to talk about current events, but will set the stage with a Jackie Robinson story. In April and May of 1963, Martin Luther King was in Birmingham for civil rights demonstrations. Jackie Robinson was at home in New York and raising money to send to King to help finance the effort. After Robinson watched scenes of police brutality against non-violent protestors, he decided to go to Birmingham to visibly support King. Below, Robinson with King at the church rally where they spoke.
This is a quote from Jackie’s speech at the rally (click here for the video):
“This picture just sickens me, this big brave policeman down here with his knee on the throat of this lady…The only thing we are demanding is that we be allowed to be treated like any other American citizen…the same picture of the dogs and of that policeman with his knee on the throat of this lady is a picture that’s being portrayed throughout the world.”
Fast forward 57 years. Déjà vu.
Black Lives Matter: Some people believe that the slogan “Black Lives Matter” fails to recognize that “All Lives Matter.” I never took it that way, nor is that what it means. It is shorthand for saying black lives matter as much as white lives – and, sad to say, not everyone agrees with that. That’s why black parents have “that talk” with their children. To teach them that justice in America does not extend equally to all citizens. To warn them that they have a higher risk of getting jailed or killed because of the color of their skin.
In 2013, “Black Lives Matter” began as a hashtag and evolved into an organization to combat racial inequality in the criminal justice system. In 2016, San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem to support the cause and protest police brutality. On Memorial Day, May 25, 2020, in a continuing story of American carnage, George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis when a police officer held a knee to Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.
Many sports teams and players quickly responded with posts on social media. One was LeBron James who has been an activist voice for years and in 2018 drew the ire of Fox broadcaster Laura Ingraham. She said LeBron was “barely intelligible” and “ungrammatical” and should “shut up and dribble.” LeBron quipped that she had created more awareness for his fight for social justice. And he did not shut up. He has continued his activism, and in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, LeBron joined other athletes in posting this meme on Twitter:
LeBron is an important voice from the NBA, and he was soon joined by the biggest player voice in the NFL.
Patrick Mahomes, Michael Thomas and Bryndon Minter: After the killing of George Floyd, the NFL was slow to respond. But the players were not. Many posted on social media, but it was a 71-second film that became a blockbuster shared by millions of viewers. The story of the background and intrigue that preceded the film reads like a thriller. For the long version, see “How a ‘rogue’ employee forced NFL, Goodell into new Black Lives Matter stance” (click on Yahoo Sports). Here are some highlights.
New Orleans Saints receiver Michael Thomas was vocal in his dissatisfaction with the NFL’s initial statement. Many employees within the league office felt the same way, including NFL video producer Bryndon Minter (below). Minter, risking his job, reached out to Thomas about producing a video of players taking a strong stand. They put together a script, and Thomas sent it out to several players to record. Minter then edited the clips so that each player had parts in the video.
The script is below, and you can see and hear the players deliver the message by clicking here.
“It’s been 10 days since George Floyd was brutally murdered. How many times do we need to ask you to listen to your players? What will it take? For one of us to be murdered by police brutality? What if I was George Floyd?
I am George Floyd. I am Breonna Taylor. I am Ahmaud Arbery. I am Eric Garner. I am Laquan McDonald. I am Tamir Rice. I am Trayvon Martin. I am Walter Scott. I am Michael Brown Jr. I am Samuel DuBose. I am Frank Smart. I am Phillip White. I am Jordan Baker.
We will not be silenced. We assert our right to peacefully protest. It shouldn’t take this long to admit. So, on behalf of the National Football League, this is what we, the players, would like to hear you state: We, the National Football League, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of black people. We, the National Football League, admit wrong in silencing our players from peacefully protesting. We, the National Football League, believe Black Lives Matter.”
The players sent the video out through their individual social media platforms. They got millions of hits. Goodell quickly did his own video that tracked the third paragraph of the players’ script almost word-for-word.
Although Mahomes was only one of nine players in the video, his involvement is significant. He is the current face of the NFL. He is in the process of negotiating his first big contract. Athletes are often hesitant to get “political” and possibly alienate a part of the fan base (and the owners and President Trump; ask Colin Kaepernick).
Mahomes, the son of a black man and a white mother, also tweeted about his personal situation, saying “All I can think is how I grew up in a locker room where people from every race, every background, and every community came together and became brothers to accomplish a single goal. I hope that our country can learn from the injustices that we have witnessed to become more like the locker room where everyone is accepted. We all need to treat each other like brothers and sisters, and become something better.”
A second Chief was in the NFL video, safety Tyrann Mathieu (a/k/a “Honey Badger”). The Chiefs entire organization has also jumped in, starting at the top with Clark Hunt. The team sent this tweet after the video was posted: “We love and support our players. We’re proud of you Patrick and Tyrann.”
In a press conference yesterday, Coach Andy Reid gave a five minute monologue in support of justice and the Black Lives Matter movement. He also praised his players: “I appreciated Patrick and Tyrann for what they did and standing up and making a statement that allows all of us to be in a better place where love is first and we can surround all of ourselves with great people and most of all respect people we come in contact with.”
When the NFL starts this fall, everyone will be watching to see what happens with player protests. We have a clue from 29 soccer players from Liverpool FC from the Premier League. A week after the killing of George Floyd, they took a knee and posted this photo with the caption “Unity is strength. #BlackLivesMatter.”
Some Baseball Stories: The tragedy was noted by many leagues, teams and players of all sports. For example, from the Red Sox:
In Kansas City, this post from the Royals:
Building bridges in the community is not new to the Royals. In an article posted on mlb.com, Jeffrey Flanagan covers in detail the social justice side of the Royals . For example, the team provides major support to the Kansas City Urban Youth Academy and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. General Manager Dayton Moore is outspoken about social justice, diversity, equity and inclusion. In 2017, he took his baseball operations department (about 20 people) to Atlanta for meetings that included a visit to The Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change. Special assistant Reggie Sanders is a former major leaguer and was on that trip. He remembers a sign with a King quote that was relevant to the recent protests: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Moore is not silent.
This week, Moore was on Joe Posnanski’s “Poscast” with Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. Topics included the museum, race issues, baseball this season and the small number of African-Americans currently in the major leagues. A key quote from Dayton Moore: “Racism is good v. evil. It’s not black v. white.” The podcast is well worth a listen (click here).
Below, Moore at his desk last night as the Royals made their first two picks in the draft. Everybody seems to agree that they got two excellent prospects. Note the sign: “BLACK LIVES MATTER – United for Change.”
Joey Votto of the Cincinnati Reds first heard about the George Floyd killing from a black teammate who texted the video. Rather than opening the video, Votto’s instincts (his word) provoked him to the defense of the policeman – perhaps the victim was resisting arrest. He and the teammate had a tense exchange via text. Ironically, Votto had just finished reading Nelson Mandela’s biography, but the connection did not register.
Votto watched the video a day later. He wept. He called his teammate to apologize. He released a statement on what had happened. And also how it had changed him:
“Everything inside of me wants things to go back to normal. I don’t want to protest, raise my voice, or challenge someone. I don’t want to have heated arguments, break up friendships, or challenge previous norms.
But I hear you now, and so that desire for normalcy is a privilege by which I can no longer abide. That privilege kept me from understanding the ‘why’ behind Colin Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the national anthem. That privilege allowed me to ignore my black teammates’ grievances about their experiences with law enforcement, being profiled, and discriminated against. And that privilege has made me complicit in the death of George Floyd, as well as many other injustices that blacks experience in the U.S. and my native Canada.
A week after I returned Mandela’s biography to the library shelf, I dismissed a black friends plea for support. Only now am I just beginning to hear. I am awakening to their pain, and my ignorance. No longer will I be silent.”
A Basketball Story: Gregg Popovich, coach of the San Antonio Spurs, has a long history of supporting humanitarian causes. In an emotional interview, he talked about the George Floyd killing:
“In a strange, counterintuitive sort of way, the best teaching moment of this recent tragedy, I think, was the look on the officer’s face. For white people to see how nonchalant, how casual, just how everyday-going-about-his job, so much so that he could just put his left hand in his pocket, wriggle his knee around a little bit to teach this person some sort of a lesson — and that it was his right and his duty to do it, in his mind.
I don’t know. … I think I’m just embarrassed as a white person to know that that can happen. To actually watch a lynching. We’ve all seen books, and you look in the books and you see black people hanging off of trees. And you … are amazed. But we just saw it again. I never thought I’d see that, with my own eyes, in real time.”
The reference by Popovich to lynching reminded me of Effa Manley, the co-owner of the Newark Eagles, a storied team in the Negro Leagues. I wrote about her in my MLK message in 2019 (Hot Stove #90 ). One of her many social justice causes was the fight for national anti-lynching legislation. It was 1939, and the fight had been reenergized by the release of Billie Holiday’s classic “Strange Fruit” (hanging from those trees). Manley held fund raisers at Eagles’ games to contribute to the cause. The legislation did not pass, as had been the case several times since the first attempt in 1901.
The issue has come up several times since then, with the Senate and House never agreeing on the language in the proposed bills. Coincidentally, there is now a pending bill that has been tentatively approved by the Senate and House. But quick passage by unanimous consent is being tied up by Senator Rand Paul. Senator Kamala Harris made a passionate speech on the Senate floor last week attacking Paul’s “cruel and deliberate obstruction on a day of mourning” (click here).
A Tennis Story: In an Instagram post, Serena Williams took her lead from a young girl: “I can’t and still can’t find the words to say or express how sad I feel…. but she found them for me. She found them for so many of us.” Serena attached a poignant video that you must watch. Click here.
A College Football Story: Missouri University football players were on the Columbia campus last week and joined in a peaceful protest. Head coach Eliah Drinkwitz: “Today we decided that action is what causes change. Our integrity is when words and actions come into alignment. So we did that—our players led a powerful walk to the courthouse where we took a knee for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, to honor the life of George Floyd and demand justice. This isn’t political. It’s a human rights issue.” After the protest, 62 student-athletes went into the courthouse and registered to vote. Go Tigers.
A NASCAR Story: NASCAR, in an unexpected announcement this week, took an action that will be unpopular with some of its fan base:
“The presence of the Confederate flag at NASCAR events runs contrary to our commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for all fans, our competitors and our industry. Bringing people together around a love for racing and the community it creates is what makes fans and sport special. The display of the Confederate flag will be prohibited from all NASCAR events and properties.”
One pundit joked that this was inevitable because NASCAR has been turning left for years.
Protests at J.C. Nichols Fountain: In the last Hot Stove, I included a photo of the J.C. Nichols Fountain. The city had just turned it on for the season as we could see from our condo. The day after that photo was posted, the fountain became the center of Kansas City protests. So our view changed dramatically.
The first three nights were on the weekend (Friday, Saturday and Sunday, May 29-31). Each featured big (and quite diverse) crowds in the park. They also marched down Main and into other surrounding areas (including the intersection next to our condo building). Police in riot gear established a perimeter. At times, mostly after dark, pepper spray and tear gas were used for crowd control and a fleet of police cars staged nearby came in with blaring sirens. Looters took advantage of the situation, and some stores on the Plaza were boarded up. After the first three days, the protests continued, but the police changed tactics by staying in the background. The de-escalation approach has gone well with very few arrests.
One incident during the protests gained Kansas City national attention. Two police officers left the line and pepper sprayed a protestor yelling at them. The video of the incident went viral (click here) and was repeatedly shown on TV (Rita and I saw it on John Oliver’s This Week Tonight). Police officials defended the officers, noting that the video did not show earlier events that might have prompted the need for pepper spray. There is an ongoing investigation. Whatever the result, this incident can be a strong argument by the police to have the benefit of bodycams to show a more complete picture of the events. Local KC donors have already come forward and agreed to provide funds for bodycams.
The use of bodycams is also a goal of the protest leaders. Other items on the agenda are local control of the department and a new appeal process for abuse complaints. There is also a need for revised budgeting. When cities cut the budgets for mental health, social services, school security, the homeless, etc., the default organization to handle the fallout is the police department. We need the police, but we also need police reform. But to lay all of this on the police would be a mistake. Systemic racism overlays all aspects of life in this country – from housing to jobs to schools and more. We all need to pitch in.
Mayor Quinton Lucas has worked hard (and I think effectively) throughout the protests. He has been in office less than a year and had to deal with the pandemic and these protests. He’s 35.
November Election: Although Hot Stove is mostly about baseball, I have on occasion mentioned my Democratic Party history. Each year for the Martin Luther King holiday, I tell a civil rights story connected to sports (MLK Link). My only truly “political” Hot Stove post related to the white supremacists’ march in Charlottesville in 2017 (Hot Stove #50). That’s the march when President Trump said there were good people on both sides. I beg to differ. So it will not surprise anyone that I will not be voting for Donald Trump in November.
I could leave it at that, but feel compelled to speak to this moment in the country. And I’m not trying to change the minds of my Republican friends. Polls have confirmed our polarized electorate. Over 90% of Republicans will likely vote for Trump. Same scenario for the Democrats and Biden. The race will boil down to the independent voters. I hope they will believe that we need to make progress on social justice, and to that end, need a president who has sincere empathy. How do Biden and Trump measure up?
Joe Biden exudes empathy. I think most people know that, but there is a good reminder in a front page story in the New York Times today. Reporters Katie Glueck and Matt Flegenheimer reviewed nearly 60 eulogies delivered by Biden and talked with his friends, former staffers and relatives of those he has eulogized. It provides an intimate window into how he sought to comfort others and how he would lead a nation grappling with death and devastation. With regard to George Floyd, Biden has visited with the family and recorded a video played at the funeral.
Trump has zero empathy (other than for himself). He has had little to say about George Floyd, but he did try to make Floyd his ally during his remarks on new unemployment figures. “Hopefully George is looking down right now and saying this is a great thing that’s happening for our country. There’s a great day for him.” Other than still being dead.
Two days ago, Trump hit a new bottom for empathy projection. You have probably seen this video of 75-year-old Martin Gugino being shoved by a Buffalo policeman and left in a pool of blood. Many other officers paraded by and offered no help. This happened on June 4, and Gugino is still in the hospital and being treated for a brain injury.
Who is Martin Gugino? An active volunteer in the Catholic Worker Movement (with a goal to “live in accordance with the justice and charity of Jesus Christ”). A peace activist. An advocate for the disenfranchised. A passion for social justice. In retirement, involved in multiple causes, including Black Lives Matter. On the empathy scale, at the opposite end from Trump.
As shown in the photo, blood was coming out Gugino’s ear. Not a good sign. But here is what the President of the United States tweeted on Tuesday:
“Buffalo protestor shoved by Police could be an ANTIFA provocateur. 75 year old Martin Gugino was pushed away after appearing to scan police communications in order to black out the equipment. @OANN. I watched, he fell harder than was pushed. Was aiming scammer. Could be a set-up?”
Trump, with an assist from one of the right-wing conspiracy websites he follows, made it all up. No surprise. Donald Trump started his presidency with a lie about the size of his Inaugural crowd. And it never stopped. Four more years of this?
Sorry for the political speech, but silence, especially at times like this, does not work for me.
A Closing Note: June 4 became “Blackout Tuesday” with social messaging on many platforms to support Black Lives Matter. Some were just blank black screens, but others had an added touch. I was a proud grandpa when I saw this Instagram post showing intertwined hands on a black screen. It was posted by my granddaughter Emersyn.
Peace and Justice.