July 12, 2016
A weeping nation needs its sports
stars more than ever – off the field
By KEITH GAVE
Nothing would please me more than to commit the next several hundred words or so discussing how the Tigers can come out of the MLB All-Star break ready to improve on a mediocre first half of the season. Or provide Red Wings General Manager Ken Holland with a few paragraphs of advice about what should be on his to-do list before they head back to camp in a few months. Or wax optimistically about all the Pistons and Lions have done to improve their clubs this off-season.
But my heart just isn’t in it. With recent events across the country involving officer-related shootings, the sniper taking to the rooftops in Dallas to kill white police officers and demonstrators taking to the streets of several American cities, and closer to home Monday when two more officers were gunned down in a Berrien County courthouse, everything about sports seems irrelevant.
My heart is hurting, and I know I’m not alone. Our problems are so much more challenging than a baseball team losing three out of four to Toronto this weekend, or a hockey team that can’t seem to fight past the first round of the playoffs anymore.
I haven’t been this worried about our country since I was a junior in high school and tanks were rumbling around the streets of Detroit (and Newark, New Jersey, and Los Angeles, among other American cities) trying to quell riots ignited by seething racial tensions.
You’d think we’d learn, but nearly 50 years later – even eight years after we elected the first African-American president and thought we had finally come of age as a peaceful, multi-ethnic society – little, obviously, has changed. And it might be worse than ever.
We are a nation now of ever-increasing candle-light vigils and street protests, with slogans like “Hands up, don’t shoot!” and “I can’t breathe!”
When it gets bad, our knee-jerk response is to rally the clergy to step in and help settle things down. And it works for a minute or so, until the next video turns up showing a black man dying at the hands of the police.
We are a nation of citizen journalists. Used to be the guy who controlled the printing presses held the power.
Now anyone with a cell phone has a printing press, and a radio and TV station – and even a movie production studio. Everyone with a Facebook page has a platform. Anyone with a Twitter account can rally thousands at the drop of a hashtag.
We are a melting pot of a nation threatening to implode if we cannot find a way to raise the level of discourse on race relations in this country. And calling out the clergy is like applying a Band-Aid where a tourniquet is needed. It’s time to try something new, something bold enough to compel us to want to take part in the conversation.
There are people among us who can command our attention merely by standing in a batter’s box waiting on a pitch, or driving to the basket after a nifty crossover dribble, or dangling a puck at the end of a stick, or throwing a spiral 60 yards on rope into the arms of sprinting receiver. We need those people now to step up, perhaps in some kind of Presidential Commission on Racial Harmony in America, and raise the kind of awareness that will help start the talking and end the shooting.
People like Derek Jeter. He’s recently retired and more recently married – so he should have a lot of time on his hands. Icons like Kobe Bryant and Charles Barkley, Brett Favre and Calvin Johnson. Active stars should be involved too, like hockey’s P.K. Subban, the superlative African-Canadian defenseman recently traded from Montreal to Nashville. He was quick to send his condolences to the heartbroken in Dallas.
We need the brightest among our sports stars like LeBron James and Stephen Curry, Bryce Harper and Mike Trout, Cam Newton and Aaron Rodgers putting their shoulders into this alongside President Obama and other national leaders might be a decent start. We’d listen if they started talking about it, wouldn’t we?
I mean, what’s the point of celebrity if it’s not put to good use?
We have do try something new because what we’ve been doing surely hasn’t worked – and the only ones benefitting, it seems, are the candle-makers and undertakers.
Sports, and the people who perform in them at the highest levels, help to provide a diversion from the drudgeries of our everyday lives. But we need them now more than ever, away from their games for a few moments, to help calm and heal a grieving nation at war with itself.