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Five days after publicly calling for his fellow prominent athletes to take action to stand for black rights, New York Knicks All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony wrote an essay for The Guardian expounding on his decision to speak following the police killing of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La., the police killing of Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minn., and the killing of five police officers by a lone gunman at an otherwise peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas.
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In the piece, the 32-year-old Anthony discusses the weariness he felt after hearing about the shooting of Sterling last Tuesday — “OK, here we are again” — and the difficulty of balancing the need to speak out with the desire to say something of substance about the maddeningly persistent issues of racism, violence against African Americans, police brutality and gun violence that have, in many ways, come to dominate and define the present moment in American society.
Every time something like this happens, people rush online to Twitter and Instagram to share their opinions. Everybody says the same thing but we never get anywhere. At first I wasn’t going to post anything because I wanted to get all the information first. I slept on it overnight and woke up in the middle of the morning to a nagging voice: What am I going to say? I didn’t want it to be the same things as everybody else: #AltonSterling, #PhilandoCastile, #DallasPoliceShooting. When I chose to speak out, it was a matter of being honest, speaking from the heart about what’s going on and calling on my colleagues to step up, get out there and put pressure on the people in charge to not let this happen anymore. No more hashtags.
Do athletes have a responsibility to stand up? I don’t want to put it all on athletes. I believe all people need to rise up and make their voices heard. But I do think that athletes have the biggest reach, especially now with social media and all the people that follow us. We have one of the biggest platforms to speak out, one where people pay attention to what we have to say, whether it’s everyday civilians or those in positions of power. We have that influence. It’s just a matter of if we want to use it or not. Everybody uses it for different reasons. But at a time like this, you have to put aside the politics of business and whether a sponsor or somebody from a company that you represent is going to call you about it. If you’re a human being, this affects everybody.
The question, then, is what else athletes like Anthony — and the many others who have responded in the wake of the shootings in Dallas, Baton Rouge and Falcon Heights — can do to press public officials toward action and discussion that might get us closer to solutions for the problems that continue to plague us. Anthony seems to be considering making a political statement when he travels to Brazil next month to play on the U.S. men’s national basketball team in the 2016 Summer Olympics, his record fourth Summer Games, where he’ll try to win his third gold medal:
In three weeks I’ll travel to Rio with the United States’ Olympic team to perform on a global stage. I haven’t spoken with my team-mates yet about the opportunity before us and how we can take advantage of it, because at the end of the day I want it to be genuine. If you don’t feel like you want to make a statement or make a stand, then don’t do it. You shouldn’t feel forced to do it. You have to want to do that. For me, I do feel like this is a platform where we should – we as athletes, we as Americans – use it for something. Whether we make a statement out there or send a message, we can show the world that we’re united. Whatever way we want to do it, this is a chance to do something meaningful before an audience of billions. I don’t know what that something is yet, but we still have time to figure it out.
According to the Olympic Charter, “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.” And yet, many Olympians over the years have made political statements, from high-jumper Peter O’Connor climbing a flagpole in Athens in 1906 to wave an Irish flag in protest of being forced to compete for Great Britain, to German long-jumper Luz Long publicly congratulating and befriending Jesse Owens in Berlin in 1936, to the Taiwanese delegation marching behind an “Under Protest” banner in 1960 after the International Olympic Committee asked them to change their official name from The Republic of China to Formosa, to American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their black-gloved fists in the air in an “homage to human rights” in Mexico City in 1968.
What form a potential protest or gesture would take remains to be seen, but it would be in keeping with Anthony’s public commitment to activism. Last April, he marched with protesters in the streets of Baltimore, the city where he grew up, with demonstrators demanding justice for Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who died after suffering serious spinal injuries while in police custody.
“I was a kid who ran from the police when they came on the block,” Anthony says in a new VICE Sports video released Wednesday reflecting on his Baltimore march. “I was a kid who used to just say smart things to police and provoke the police. If you a kid out there in your neighborhood at night, the police tell you to get off the block, it’s like, you’re not going in the house. This is my neighborhood. This is my block. I’m sitting on my steps.
“On the flip side of that, I have police that I know by first name. We have good relationships with some of these police. And there will always be the one out of five who, you see him, you already know that it’s instant problems right away […] It’s not about trying to take down or badmouth the police force and officers. There’s good police and there’s [EXPLETIVE]-up police. That’s what it is.”
Last November, Anthony called for prison reform and revamped rehabilitation efforts after a visit to Rikers Island. Last December, he joined fellow All-Stars Stephen Curry, Chris Paul and now-Knicks-teammate Joakim Noah in an advertising campaign calling for an end to gun violence. That campaign was part of a partnership between nonprofit gun-control advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety and the NBA itself.
As NBA players like Anthony make more and more public statements on political and social issues — from the Miami Heat’s hoods-up picture in solidarity with the family and friends of Trayvon Martin to multiple players wearing “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirts in solidarity with those protesting the death of unarmed black man Eric Garner at the hands of police officer Daniel Pantaleo in Staten Island, N.Y. — NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has continued to show his support for their right to raise their voices.
“I am absolutely in favor of players speaking out and speaking from the heart about whatever issues are important to them,” Silver said during a Tuesday night press conference at Las Vegas Summer League. “It’s how this country operates. I’ve had this direct conversation with many of our players.
“I’m not one to say they have an obligation to do it, but I think those that feel comfortable doing it and want to speak out, they have this incredible forum to do it, whether it’s through in a formal way through media members that are in this room or whether it’s through social media. I actually think it demonstrates that these are multidimensional people. They live in this society, and they have strong views about how things should be. So I’m very encouraging of that.”
For his part, Olympic medalist Carlos wrote in a piece published Wednesday at Vox that he does believe athletes like Anthony have an obligation to go above and beyond on issues like these:
Fear is all around anyone who’s trying to make change. But the men and the women of this world step through fear and challenge this system so other people can have a better life.
And so I’m really frustrated with a lot of today’s stars, who have an opportunity to speak up but don’t. They think they’re secure in their little bubbles of fame and wealth. They think racism and prejudice can’t touch them because they’ve achieved a certain level of success.
I want to tell them, “Your mother’s not secure in that bubble. She doesn’t have a tattoo on her forehead that says she’s part of your lineage. Your son is not secure. Your daughter is not secure. Your father is not secure. The kids you grew up with are not secure.” […]
If you’re famous and you’re black, you have to be an activist. Activism is a guy who says, “I’m a multimillionaire, and I’m going to help.” Activism is transparent.
To hear Anthony tell it, the activism he aspires to and the message he wants to send go beyond politics:
There’s nothing political about taking a stand and speaking on what you believe in. The teams and the support systems around athletes urge them to stay away from politics, stay away from religion, stay away from this, stay away from that. But at certain times you’ve just got to put all of that aside and be a human being. That time is now.
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