Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and the Return of the Activist Athlete

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and the Return of the Activist Athlete

Article excerpt

The last three decades in the sports world saw the rise of the commodity athlete, the Michael Jordans and Tiger Woods of the world who could sell sneakers, burgers, and apparel with ease - while staying squarely out of politics and other risky topics that could be bad for business.

But the recent string of high-profile shootings of unarmed black men - Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin - has drawn the attention of black pro athletes across the sports world eager to use their celebrity to speak up and join the conversation on racial injustice.

Is this the return of the "activist athlete?"

Consider the recent spate of statements made by athletes: Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose, Detroit Lions running back Reggie Bush, and St. Louis Rams offensive lineman Davin Joseph, wore shirts emblazoned with "I Can't Breathe," the rallying cry of many protesting a grand jury's decision to not indict a police officer in the death of Eric Garner in Staten Island.

Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James has called the shirt "spectacular," and said he is looking for one, leading some to believe he may wear it before Monday evening's game against the Brooklyn Nets in New York.

A week after their much-talked about "Hands Up Don't Shoot," gesture during pre-grame introductions, a group of St. Louis Rams players made another political statement

Guard Davin Joseph wrote the words on the cleats he wore during Sunday's pre-game warmups before the Rams beat the Washington Redskins 24-0, reported the AP. Tight end Jared Cook had it written on his wrist tape. Receiver Kenny Britt had several names -- including Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin -- written on his blue and gold cleats. The names were of black men or teens whose deaths led to protests, the AP reported.

The athletes also took to Twitter to disseminate their message.

R.I.P Eric Garner pic.twitter.com/i84grny7pR-- Davin Joseph (@DavinJoseph75) December 7, 2014

Reggie Bush wrote 'I Can't Breathe' on his warm-up shirt in support of the late Eric Garner. http://t.co/BGTyboS9KO pic.twitter.com/WBcfyaNKdh-- theScore (@theScore) December 7, 2014

"Honestly, I've always been the quiet kid. I've always been the one who's reserved, to kind of sit back and not really get into politics and things like that," Bush, of the Detroit Lions, told the AP. "But I don't know why I just felt some kind of ... I guess the situation just touched me.

"It's kind of resonated with me," said Bush, whose mother was a police officer. "Not because I've been through a similar situation or because I've seen anybody go through it. I just really felt terrible about what was going on these past couple of weeks."

Amar'e Stoudemire, of the New York Knicks, also weighed in. "I'm pretty upset that I'm not protesting right now with the rest of the guys out there in New York," he told ESPN after a recent game before offering his thoughts on the Garner case. "I think it's something that's - it's very alarming in our country as far as that's concerned. We have to be more conscientious of what the law enforcement's job is, and that's to protect and serve," he said. "Those two words are very strong when you think about that. Your first job is to protect and your second job is to serve. Obviously it's not happening that way."

These statements follow a much-publicized 2012 picture by Mr. James and his then-Miami Heat teammates, who donned black "hoodies" and posed with their heads bowed and their hands in their pockets. The team picture, which James tweeted with the hashtag "#WeWantJustice," was a show of solidarity with Trayvon Martin, the black teenager fatally shot by white-Hispanic neighborhood watch guard George Zimmerman in Florida while wearing a similar hooded sweatshirt.

In the case of Trayvon Martin, a jury ruled Zimmerman not guilty in 2013. And more recently, grand juries decided not to indict white police officers in the shooting deaths of Garner and Brown, both unarmed black men who were fatally shot. …

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