Sports Step Up Big
We can all take a huge, well-deserved sigh of relief. The nightmare is over.
If you paid any attention to the Republican National Convention last week, you learned like I did from speaker after speaker that the pandemic is now behind us — as evidenced by the largely mask-less crowd of approximately 1,500 sitting side-by-side on the south lawn of the White House Thursday night listening intently to proclamations of our triumph over COVID-19. The virus was talked about repeatedly in the past tense. We were told that we’ve beaten it with aggressive action, unparalleled testing, a mobilization of our manufacturing capabilities, and strong, decisive leadership. Our treatments are working and a vaccine will be available soon, very soon. The ‘greatest economy of all time’ is roaring back. Our nation is strong. We are, as always, the envy of the world.
This was thrilling to hear. For I, too, am more than ready to resume my pre-coronavirus life.
Curiously, though, no mention was made of the 6.0 million confirmed cases and the 183,000 deaths in this country due to the virus.¹ Nor the 17 million unemployed or the millions who have lost their employer-provided health care insurance. Or the fact that the coronavirus continues to hit people of color and the poor disproportionately hard. Nor any reference to Congress not yet providing another round of financial relief or extending unemployment benefits.
There was also no mention of another African American man getting shot by police — seven times in the back at point-blank range — that spurred protests and the postponement of regular season and playoff games in the National Basketball Association, the Women’s National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League, Major League Soccer, and Major League Baseball. Nor a mention of the White teenage supporter of Blue Lives Matter, seen walking the streets with other armed civilians ostensibly to protect property,² allegedly killing two and wounding another protester with his long rifle following the incomprehensible shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin.³
These facts do not fit neatly into the administration’s carefully-crafted upbeat storyline. Wouldn’t want to ruin an elaborate, well-choreographed, expensive celebration, now would we? One that showed footage of a city on fire to frighten us into thinking that that will be our future under a different administration. Not mentioned was the fact that the city on fire was Barcelona, which is still in Spain and not in the United States.⁴ But why let facts get in the way of a good reality television program?
And one, by the way, that used the White House, the people’s house, as a venue for a political event. Which, the last time we looked, is blatantly illegal. As Mark Meadows, the president’s Chief of Staff put it, “No one outside the Beltway really cares” if the administration violates the Hatch Act (which prohibits elected officials from using government resources for political purposes).⁵ Which is tantamount to saying, ‘Yeah, we broke the law. So what?’ Again.
There was also not one mention of dismantling the post office to undermine our ability to vote by mail in the presidential election in November. No wonder, since, according to Fox News, it is merely a conspiracy theory being pushed by the Democrats and mainstream media.⁶ Despite all evidence to the contrary.⁷
Or that the administration, shockingly, may have intentionally delayed coronavirus testing in states with Democratic governors.⁸ Or that the administration pressured the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to change its guidance and raise the bar for the need for testing — now requiring symptoms, not just exposure, despite many of those infected and capable of spreading the virus exhibiting no symptoms. This significant change was made while Dr. Anthony Fauci, our leading pandemic expert, was in surgery and unavailable to participate in the discussion, if one occurred.⁹ More testing, not less, has long been loudly advocated by the public health community. Is it any wonder that the United States ranks next-to-last among 14 major countries in the belief that our government has done a good job dealing with the coronavirus, scoring just ahead of the last-place United Kingdom?¹⁰
It was a party, after all. No one would want to kill the mood with such disconcerting, distressing information.
To be fair, the Democratic National Convention the week before also sidestepped important topics. But, for the most part, not ones concerning our health. Which, unfortunately, is still very much at risk.
Yet, there are silver linings. The unprecedented decision by the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team not to play a playoff game last week was quickly supported by other NBA teams, the women’s professional basketball league, major league soccer, professional hockey, and major league baseball. Their actions were bold, brave and commendable. It caught our attention. It might even provide an important catalyst for change, as the basketball players’ union and the league have agreed to create a social justice coalition, work with election officials to convert NBA arenas into polling places for the 2020 election, and create advertising spots to promote ‘greater civic engagement in national and local elections.’¹¹ Watch for baseball to follow suit, as the Oakland A’s, among others, are already seeking permission to use their ball park as a polling place.
What the players, coaches and ownership of these teams across five professional leagues have made clear is that it is decidedly not business as usual when yet another Black man is shot, this one seven times in the back by police at point-blank range. And that there are things more important than sports.
The events in Kenosha are nearly impossible to fathom. Sadly, that shooting does not stand alone. Consider other recent killings of Black men: A choke hold. A shooting of a lone jogger. A knee to the neck. Now 29-year-old Jacob Blake, shot seven times in rapid succession, in the back, at point-blank range. In front of his three children. All of these events occurred in daylight, in public. This is what modern-day lynchings look like.
Regardless of the predictably rosy picture the Republicans painted during their convention last week, even as Colorado and California remain on fire, as Hurricane Laura carved a path of death and destruction through the Gulf coast to Lake Charles, Louisiana,¹² and as protesters marched in Kenosha, we are in a world of hurt. Many of us are sick. Many have lost loved ones. Many have lost jobs. Many worry about feeding their children and themselves. Many worry about losing their apartment or house. Many are working from home while supporting their children as they remote learn and, in the little or no free time remaining, manage to shop, cook, clean, be a parent, shower and maybe sleep. Many of us are isolated, lonely, sad, in pain. Many are scared. Some are exhibiting symptoms of depression. Many worry about getting sick. Many worry about getting shot or, worse, their children getting shot. (You are not alone. Need to talk to a trained professional? One awaits at https://www.apa.org/helpcenter. Reach out today.)
America’s issues are not behind us. They are staring us in the face. If not for the conviction and courage of professional athletes, many of us who watched the Republican National Convention last week might believe the comforting alternate reality, the self-serving mythical universe they fabricated.
Were it only true.
¹ As of 9:00 p.m., ET, August 30; https://www.cnn.com/interactive/2020/health/coronavirus-us-maps-and-cases/ These data are from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), so who knows?