We live in precarious times. This is a refrain that every generation seems to have uttered in the face of challenges and change. Yet, while at its core, the phrase hints at hopelessness, it is in fact, a mantra of resilience. Evolution is synonymous with humankind and resilience is the breath of collective future.
Still, it seems that most all the flaws in the human journey are resultant of an inability to embrace the notion of ourselves as a collective whole and our betterment as the constant pursuit of collective good. Bound by the constraints of our selfishness and prejudices, we are amazingly adept at writing the narrative of others and assessing blame, while uneasy in our own true self reflection. We cling to categories of self-identity not only as a means of pride but as a promulgation tool of privilege and power.
We are not the only generation at multiple crossroads, just the most current. How we address the issues of and at those crossroads matters. It defines not only who we are, but more importantly, who we want to be. Still, the backdrop of our history in the 240 years since the country’s founding fathers declared, with caveats, America a free nation adherent to the principle of equality (87,703 days with leap years factored in), begs not only that question of who do we want to be, but do we have the courage to be it?
So here we sit, from slavery to systemic imprisonment, from civil war to civil rights to civil unrest, we are all aware and have travelled the roads of unmarked graves no longer lined and shaded by the trees of lynching long cut down. Our present is marked by roadside vigils of wrongful disenfranchisement and death. The independence of our declaration has become the de facto institutionalization of mass incarceration. So, I ask you, do we have the courage to do it? Can we talk about race?
In a year marked by the passing of the quintessential athlete voice, Muhammad Ali, we, at The Center for the Study of Sport in Society at Northeastern, call on athletes past and present to embrace the mantle of social justice, so that the history of sport leading that conversation continues to be a beacon of conscience, a conscientious objection to hate and a leadership platform to engage our nation and our world in the difficult conversations that endure the pains of discomfort to move the social continuum beyond the divisiveness that constrains the best possibilities of our humanity.
In 2008, The Center honored John Carlos, an amazing athlete and American whose family, across generations, had served their country. Yet, as a 23 year old, on the medal stand in Mexico City, he raised his fist, to question the dichotomy between that loyalty and the lack of rights and disenfranchisement returned to his parents and others. For that action, he was vilified, branded a traitor and intentionally disgraced by a pointed and visceral backlash steeped in fear of Black Power rather than honest in focus on Black persecution.
Forty-eight years later, after those Olympics, that fear and deflection persists. From Black Power to Black Lives Matter, we have negatively branded those movements and avoided the conversation of what true civil rights mean in a country founded on the principle of equality of all people. It is inherent, in light of that constant, that the void of the athlete voice be filled, be resounding, be resonant and be real. In tribute to Carmelo Anthony, competing in his fourth Olympics, to LeBron James and Chris Paul, to Richard Sherman, to Marshawn Lynch to Jabari Parker and to others who have begun to embrace the mantle of that voice, we at the Center, who have always understood the power of the platform, applaud the courage of your conviction, the compassion of your conscience and your collective call for that conversation 240 years overdue.