You all know me as the sports guy. When you have questions about who to start in your fantasy lineup, or what trade rumors are floating around the NBA, or who is good in the upcoming draft class, you come to me for answers — and I happily oblige.
Drop David Johnson, the Arizona Cardinals just benched him. Word on the street is the Brooklyn Nets are trying to land a third star to pair with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Obi Toppin projects to be a really good small-ball center.
Conscious of the fact that I have spent countless hours mulling over the ins and outs of the sports world — watching tape, reading news stories, researching players — you trust my judgment when I tell you what’s going on. You figure that because I live and breathe the NFL and NBA, you’re better served deferring to my judgment. You value my opinion. You accept what I tell you, and you act on it. You put Kenyan Drake in your starting lineup. And you’re right to do so, dude is a beast.
But sports is not the only subject on which you should consider my expertise.
You see, I have this vest. It was given to me at birth, passed down from generation to generation. It constantly weighs me down. It puts a perpetual target on my back. I cannot take it off, even if I wanted to. I’ve grown stronger because of it, but I will likely never have the opportunity to display the true limits of that strength, because the vest will always be part of me. But in spite of its many drawbacks, I’ve come to love this vest. It isn’t what defines me, but it is deeply attached to the core of my concept of identity.
This vest is what it means to be black in America.
You think I spend a lot of time studying sports? I spend every waking moment of my existence studying what it is to be black in this country — I’m forced to, as is every African American. That melanin ain’t going anywhere. I know what it is to be profiled. Stigmatized. Slurred. Targeted. Hunted.
And I let it be known. It doesn’t take too much time in the same room with me to realize that I’m not the silent type. In person, on social media, through my content, I am vocal about these issues.
Four hundred years of slavery and another 100 years of segregation can’t be compensated for with 50 years of so-called freedom. The criminal justice system is fundamentally biased against black people. Police brutality is one of the biggest issues facing black American men today.
As a person who is continually living the black experience, I try to offer answers. What is frustrating to me, however, is that when it comes to this area of expertise, my opinions tend to fall on deaf ears. Rarely is there action on my behalf, on behalf of every soul facing these issues. Why, I do not know. Maybe it’s peer pressure. Maybe it’s because by admitting there is a problem, you are admitting that by not taking action you have been complicit in the problem. Maybe you simply don’t care enough.
Whatever it is, I’m through making excuses for you. We’ve been through too much — laughed together, wept together, fought for each other, became family — for me to accept that you turn your back on me when I need you most.
I don’t stand alone in my pain. There are about 44 million of us experts in this country — and most of us are frustrated beyond words. I don’t condone these riots happening across the country, but all of you who sit in silence have created this monster. We all have our white friends who sidestep these issues. And it is enraging that those who have the audacity to call us friends refuse to stand with us.
In the words of Martin Luther King Jr.:
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
This isn’t about touchdowns, baskets, home runs or goals. As much as I love sports, there will always be issues bigger than what’s on a scoreboard. This is, quite literally, about life and death. I’m not asking you to understand — you could frankly never understand without having lived your life with that vest. What I’m asking for, demanding, really, is your trust in our expertise. Take the same faith you have in me when it comes to sports, and apply it to my and black America’s judgment when it comes to the issues facing our community. And act on it.
Vocalize your support on social media. Talk with your families, particularly your younger siblings, about racism. Champion black leaders and organizations in your community. Demand justice for the victims of police brutality. Advocate on our behalf in the spaces where we are not and cannot be present. Make it known that you will not tolerate injustice, even when it doesn’t directly affect you.
Or is it going to take me lying on the pavement, murdered in cold blood, to motivate you to care?
Note: This essay also was published by The Undefeated.