Why can’t more of us see that economics is the key to our freedom and the answer to the problems we talk about all the time? This political year has and continues to bring this fact to light, but the Colin Kaepernick protest illuminates the issue of economics even more. Here is a guy who chose to exercise his right not to stand at the playing/singing of the National Anthem, and as a result folks have called him everything but a child of God. Folks who have burned the flag have not received the kind of treatment Kaepernick has gotten. Now, as other football players have joined in to do similar acts of protest, the real deal—economics—comes to the forefront.
Sponsors are exercising their rights to revoke their endorsements of these athletes. In other words, they are taking away their money in an effort to punish these players, the same thing they always do when a player says or does something they don’t like or agree with. It has happened to Black and White players alike.
Opinions abound on what the players should do now, and it’s amazing that some of us tell them to keep it up no matter how much money they lose, but we are unwilling to do the same thing at our jobs. Yes, they make a whole lot more money than most of us do, but it’s all relative.
Knowing that economics runs everything in this country and the world for that matter, Black folks in general and Black athletes in particular must exercise another basic right: Use money for leverage and punishment, the same way other entities do. What do I mean by that? Remember the incidents with Michael Vick, Adrian Peterson, Plaxico Burress, and Ray Rice? Several NFL sponsors notified the league that they would withdraw their support if the NFL did not address those issues by punishing those athletes in some form or another. The league saw the dollar signs and acted accordingly.
Remember the State of Indiana law that gay people said was discriminatory toward them? Corporations threatened to move their firms out of the state if the law was not changed. Governor Mike Pence took care of that problem right away by changing the law. How about the latest issue in North Carolina with the transgender bathroom thing? The NCAA is sanctioning the State by pulling its games, in all sports, out of North Carolina. The NBA has also refused to the All-Star game there. That’s money talking; and Black folks better take notice and start using our economic clout to get what we want.
Do you remember Craig Hodges, who played for the Chicago Bulls? He filed a Federal lawsuit, against the NBA accusing the owners and operators of the NBA as co-conspirators in ”blackballing” him from the league because of his “outspoken political nature as an African-American man.”
When the Bulls championship team went to the White House after an invitation from President George H.W. Bush, Hodges wore a dashiki and handed the President a letter that asked him to do more to end injustice toward the African-American community. Sound familiar?
”It’s well known through the league that there may be repercussions if you speak out too strongly on some sensitive issues,” said Buck Williams, head of the players association at that time. “I don’t know if Hodges lost his job because of it, but it is a burden when you carry the militant label he has.”
Ironically and unfairly, during that same period, stars like Dennis Rodman and Charles Barkley, both known for doing outrageous things, were tolerated and even celebrated. Craig Hodges stood on his beliefs as did Denver Nuggets star, Mahmoud Abdul-Rouf, formerly known as Chris Jackson, who was probably second only to Michael Jordan on the offensive end of the basketball court.
Long before Kaepernick, Abdul-Rouf refused to stand for the Anthem, and when he did, he prayed. This outstanding NBA player converted to Islam and soon after his conversion his NBA career came to a screeching halt. Both Hodges and Abdul-Rouf were vilified and sanctioned by the NBA for having the courage to stay true to their social, religious, and ethical convictions. Unfortunately, they stood alone for the most part. Their teammates and even the great Elgin Baylor turned their backs on him. I call that cowardly.
If just half of the Black players in the NBA and the NFL would do as the University of Missouri players did, refuse to play just two games back to back, they would change those leagues. Money rules. Of course, it takes sacrifice, but isn’t it worth it? Hodges and Abdul-Rouf did, and they lost a great deal for their willingness to take a stand. They stood alone; a critical mass of Black athletes, standing together can win.