It’s been some kind of year, you guys, but somehow, we stuck it out and made it through the absolute disaster that was 2020 in one piece.
Oh, it’s only June, you say? Huh…
In all seriousness, things have been absolutely wild (not in a good way), and it feels like our country has been torn to shreds. Between the national reckoning around racism and police brutality, the COVID-19 pandemic, and some seriously questionable leadership, it’s been hard to imagine things getting much worse.
That said, we are viewing this time as the darkness before the dawn. An opportunity where we can all emerge more connected, more loving, and prepared for a more positive future.
NextPlay fully supports the Black Lives Matter movement and believes fiercely in equality for all. We are committed to the fight against systemic racism and injustice going on in the United States and around the world. We believe that now more than ever, silence is complicity, and everyone should use their voice to help affect a necessary change in our country that has been a long time coming. While we know that sports are secondary to this fight, we also believe strongly that the actions and voices of athletes can be among the most impactful.
However, we’ve also realized that this is easier said than done.
What exactly is it that we should be saying? What platform is best? What sort of action should we be taking? What can we do that will actually help, and not just add to the noise? What if, as is the case for our leadership team at NextPlay, you are white?
On a personal note from the author, as a white male, I have typically felt uncomfortable speaking publicly about race. I always figured my opinion and voice didn’t mean as much as someone who is a direct victim of social injustice, or that I would say something dumb or insensitive by accident because I am not always totally up on current events.
I’ve come to realize that’s a bad take. Harmful, even.
As the struggle and pain of our black communities due to systemic racism has turned heads in such a powerful way over the last few weeks, I’ve realized that it’s the duty of EVERYONE to add their voice to the noise. I will never know what it’s like to be black, but I CAN listen and feel and stand with my fellow human beings. I CAN be an ally.
We can’t sit on the sidelines and let our neighbors, co-workers, friends, or strangers be treated like they are less than. If we do, nothing will ever change. We all need to act. Silence is complicity.
If you’ve watched “The Last Dance”, you’ll know that Micheal Jordan did not identify as an activist. He simply thought of himself as a basketball player, and nothing more.
This is not the case for the modern athlete.
All over the country, top athletes are speaking out and participating in peaceful protests. High profile stars like LeBron James, Patrick Mahomes, Coco Gauff, and many others have spoken publicly or participated in protests. Players and coaches from the NBA, NFL, MLB, and NHL have taken to social media to make statements condemning racism and injustice. Owners and organizations are donating to groups designed to fight this battle. We did a whole podcast episode with Imani McGee-Stafford, who views her basketball career primarily as a platform to support social justice and to bring awareness to sexual violence and mental health.
Athletes in America come from all situations, all backgrounds, all races, all walks of life. The world of sports and social activism are NOT separate. They are deeply intertwined.
As an athlete, you have a larger platform than the average person. Whether through fans, teammates, your school or organization, your words and actions reach more people than those of the typical individual.
So again, what should YOU do about it? Here are some suggestions for actions you can take to make sure you’re a part of the solution.
Educate Yourself on the Issues
Do you know what’s going on in America today? But like, REALLY know?
Do you know about institutionalized racism in America? About the Black Lives Matter movement? About the spread and fight against COVID-19? About who deserves your vote in local and national elections?
We’ve all made excuses for not paying attention to the world around us and then claimed ignorance when it’s time to get stuff done. That just isn’t gonna fly anymore.
It’s time to read up and join in. After all, how can we expect to be part of the conversation if we don’t truly understand what the conversation is about? This leads us to another point…
? CHECK ? YOUR ? SOURCES ?
A giant contributor to the problems facing our society today seems to stem from either a lack of information or relying on questionable sources when looking for guidance on how to interpret the current state of affairs.
WHERE people get their news and information is absolutely crucial.
The source of your information could be the difference between hearing both sides of a story, or only one. Between donating money to a worthwhile organization, or one that uses its funding to perpetuate the issues that challenge us. Between practicing social distancing and staying home during a pandemic, or drinking bleach and going clubbing during a pandemic.
Make sure you’re getting your information from people who actually know what they’re talking about. Do the research and do your best to find an unbiased, objective opinion on whatever you’re trying to learn. That’s going to make the next step a lot more effective.
News outlets that we like for their relative lack of bias and solid reporting of the facts are the Associated Press, PBS, and NPR. You can also try tools like AllSides, which give a headline along with interpretations of that headline from the political left, right, and center.
To be clear, we are not advocating for one political party or the other. We are advocating that you educate yourself on the facts of any given situation rather than the sensationalism and polarization that can be so easy to consume, especially on social media.
Make a Statement
If you have thoughts and feelings about the current state of affairs in America, don’t keep them to yourself. Jot them down. Put what you’re feeling into words the best that you can, and share with whoever you can. Send them to your friends, family, teammates, coach, whoever.
It seems like there are already a zillion messages out there, but rest assured that voices are not going unheard. Every voice matters the same way every vote matters, and as a person of influence, yours will reach more ears than you know. You’d be surprised how a normal person can be inspired when someone they look up to makes it known that they are in the fight.
If you’re having a hard time finding the right words, look to the people you try to emulate in life and follow their lead. Find the language that resonates with you on these issues and adopt it. Stand with the right people, and add the value of your personal feelings or experience.
While it is important to choose your words carefully, remember that you are not always going to get it right. An important part of this is expressing your feelings, learning from others, and having the self-awareness to admit when you are wrong and be willing to grow.
This statement via Twitter from Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby really struck a chord with me. Find what works for you and get after it. You’ll be glad you did, and so will your community.
Support Black-Owned Businesses
Part of helping our country heal is building up those around us, and a great way to do that is to support businesses owned by members of the black community.
Systemic racism and injustice in America have created a giant wealth and opportunity gap between white and black people, and part of reversing this problem is making sure members of the black community who operate their own businesses can continue to thrive. This is especially important as businesses are reeling due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and desperately need all the help they can get.
Apps like EatOkra and Black Wallet are services born from the battle against the wealth gap and are dedicated to helping black-owned businesses thrive by raising awareness and directing customers to their doors. Yelp is beginning to allow users to search specifically for businesses that identify as black-owned, and Uber Eats has waived delivery fees from black-owned restaurants until the end of the year in the US and Canada.
Across the country, cities are also putting out lists of black-owned businesses in diverse industries that we can patronize to help keep them operating, like this one from the birthplace of NextPlay, Durham, North Carolina.
So as society cautiously and gradually reopens, try to be mindful about where you are spending your money. Help empower these entrepreneurs to reopen or continue to operate and be sure to promote their businesses on social media. A little effort goes a really long way.
As a country, we are at a crucial point in our history. Things have never been like this. Although we fight and struggle and bleed and cry, we also are presented with an unbelievable opportunity to affect change for the better. Don’t let it pass you by. Stand Up. March. Listen. Speak.
Now more than ever is the time to take a hint from Ghandi and “be the change you wish to see in the world” so we can all get back to coexisting with high fives and hugs (just not quite yet though, because, you know, COVID).