On the EDge: Will protests open doors to discussion?

OPINION – In 1968, Olympians John Carlos and Tommie Smith stood on the winner’s platform, awaiting the playing of the national anthem.

They had just sprinted to gold and bronze in Mexico City.

It was the culmination of years of intense training with little, if any, reward.

As the first notes of the anthem played, they raised gloved hands in protest of the racial unrest and violence that boiled over in the United States as cultures clashed over equality, a senseless war, and violence that had permeated the nation.

Segregationist George Wallace and his “war hawk” running mate, Gen. Curtis LeMay, were running for the White House; racial tensions were running high; and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy had been gunned down months earlier.

A curtain of violence and political upheaval had fallen upon the nation, resulting in people taking to the streets in protest of a culture unhinged.

Carlos and Smith were pretty much finished after their protest.

Although counterculture heroes, the lucrative mainstream looked the other way and there were no shoe contracts, TV commercials, or other endorsements that could have set both men up for life after their incredible performance on the track. Their Black Power salute earned them immediate censure. International Olympic Committee IOC president Avery Brundage said the political statement was unfit for the supposedly apolitical Olympic Games. He ordered Smith and Carlos suspended from the U.S. team and banned them from the Olympic Village.

A year earlier, Muhammad Ali was stripped of his heavyweight championship title and sat idle for four years when he refused induction into the U.S. military as a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War.

He was in his athletic prime, at the height of his career, but he sacrificed it all for his beliefs.

That’s why it is surprising to see some modern-day athletes with the courage to go very public on issues that are sure to displease many.

The NBA’s Derrick Rose and LeBron James stepped from athletes to social commentators last week as nationwide protests over the deaths of two young black men at the hands of police grew. On Thursday, James spoke about the current racial climate in the United States. Saturday night, Rose wore a warm-up T-shirt with the words “I can’t breathe” written across the front. It was a reference to the pleas of a young black man in New York who died from injuries sustained after he was placed in a chokehold by a police officer.

In the NFL, five members of the St. Louis Rams took the field against the Oakland Raiders in what has been termed the “hands up, don’t shoot” posture used by those protesting the death of a young Ferguson, Missouri, man.

It’s been awhile since we’ve seen such political-social displays from professional athletes or, for that matter, anybody with a high public profile.

It’s not difficult to understand why.

There are just too many dollars on the table for them to risk the disfavor of fans or, more importantly, the agents who hand out the big bucks for lucrative endorsements for everything from tennis shoes to automobiles.

There’s just too much at stake as more athletes these days are more interested in making the cover of the Wheaties box and scoring a seven-figure commercial deal than taking a stand.

Now, I would be the first to caution against blindly following anybody, whether they are a professional athlete, rock singer, politician, actor, church leader, or any other highly public figure.

They all have an agenda.

No, make that: We all have an agenda.

You have one, I have one, the guy next door has one. It’s human nature.

That doesn’t mean we should ignore those folks. We can use their actions and opinions to start a discussion, hopefully peaceful, about the human condition and, perhaps, fix some things.

Unfortunately, not everybody embraces that stance.

In fact, few people do because it’s easier to attack than discuss.

Trust me on this.

It’s far easier to dismiss somebody’s opinion just because they come from the left or right; just because of their race or creed: or, in some cases, just because.

There have been some comments I’ve read hammering these guys for their actions, without understanding the courage it took for them to do what they did or, more importantly, trying to understand exactly what happened and why.

We may be uncomfortable with their actions, we may not be able to relate to their concerns or frustrations, but that does not lessen the importance of what they have to say.

Thirty-four years ago yesterday, we lost a leader of a youth culture that was reeling.

John Lennon spoke out against war, stood up for women’s rights, asked us to challenge our conventional thoughts.

There were times when he was one of the most unpopular men on the planet.

His comments about Christianity, which remain fairly mainstream today, resulted in a firestorm of anger and hatred directed at The Beatles.

Angry mobs gathered to burn Beatles records, the band was banned from a number of radio stations, and suddenly the lovable moptops were persona non grata.

Except, of course, by those who listened closely and engaged in conversation.

Lennon was a man of many faults, to be sure. But, he also was a man of many thoughts, some of which were quite noble, particularly when he preached in behalf of peace.

It nearly got him deported.

But, eventually, the anger subsided and we were able to talk about a lot of his idealistic musings in a different light.

Let’s hope the actions of these professional athletes in question don’t sit dormant too long before we decide that we really need to talk about the things that divide us, whether culturally, politically, or otherwise.

We’re broken, folks, and need to put the pieces together.

But, sometimes, we have to take some rather different, and not always popular, paths to find those pieces.

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Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Email: edkociela.mx@gmail.com

Twitter: @STGnews, @EdKociela

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.

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11 Comments

  • modigliani December 9, 2014 at 8:57 am

    An excellent commentary, Ed. Those of us old enough to have lived through the times you describe remember well the angst, the grief, and also the hope. We marched and sang and sat in countless meetings trying to hammer out solutions. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it did not. We bore witness to incidents and events that shaped us, frightened us at times, made us more adamant about anything we could do to make the country a better place for everyone. Let us hope something comes as a result of the protests now. We can’t afford to let chaos win.

  • All In Call December 9, 2014 at 9:07 am

    Interesting opinion Ed. But just what are you getting at?
    Can you share with us, your additional thoughts on the latest protests going on and the reasons why? And in your opinion, are they justified?

  • Brian December 9, 2014 at 9:11 am

    As long as the protests are one-sided, completely ignore the facts of the case, are driven by morons like al sharpton (entirely unworthy of capitalization) that race-bait for profit, and paint drugged-up criminal thugs as angelic victims then I’m guessing the answer to your question is: No, I don’t think they’ll open the doors to ~meaningful~ discussion. They’ll open the doors to lots of meaningless, even damaging discussion, but zero actual progress and zero healing. The fact that the “first black president” turned out to be a divisive race-baiter doesn’t exactly help either. We’re more divided than ever. Maybe in 2016 we’ll shop for qualifications rather than rhetoric, but somehow I doubt that.

  • Red Rocker December 9, 2014 at 9:48 am

    Thoughtful….
    In hindsight, the people from that era that I respect the most were the ones you mentioned. Bob Marley was another.
    I think the recent protests are the tip of a much larger unrest just below the surface.
    There are too many people in power trying to deny hope and opportunity, verily dignity from the less fortunate.
    We are seeing terrorism/revolution in many parts of the world where colonialism once dominated. Lets be wise and recognize that all Americans, including those who enter here legally and illegally, should be treated better. We might wake up to violent revolution outside our doors.

    • Brian December 9, 2014 at 12:48 pm

      Red Rocker, I agree that violent revolution could easily be in our near future (0 – 5 years). I also agree that we need to make life easier and better for all living here. We complain that the “American Dream” is dead, without realizing that our own decisions as a nation killed it. The American Dream was that of opportunity born through self-determination. Instead it has turned into the dream of an easy life of unearned rewards given from “those people” on the other side of the IRS transaction. If that becomes a reality (and it is) it won’t be a dream for any but those in power. All others, both those given to and those taken from, will be in myriad forms of bondage. We have to return to the principles that made us great, and that will require us to have a lot of hard discussions. As much as I work towards that goal in my own life and sphere of influence, it seems to be a battle we’re losing badly.

  • My Evil Twin December 9, 2014 at 1:32 pm

    Good article, Ed! (Darn it, I really can’t find anything to hammer you with in this one!) 😉

    Brian, I’m of an even older generation than Ed is, for what that is worth. I know that you are continuing to be predicting anarchy in this country. I also know that those predictions have been around for many, many years. Those predictions date back to before you were even a gleam in you old man’s eye.
    I don’t fault you for printing what you believe in. But I do think that you are usually way out of touch with reality. Of course, I realize that you make a good part of your living by being controversial, so I guess that could be the reason, rather than a lack of mentality, common sense and good judgement.
    Have a nice day. . .

    • Brian December 9, 2014 at 2:34 pm

      FYI, none of the “Brian” comments to this story are Bryan Hyde (he spells his first name wrong). It’s OK if we disagree. But don’t confuse age for wisdom.

      • My Evil Twin December 9, 2014 at 4:03 pm

        OK, thanks for the clarification on which is who.

  • McMurphy December 9, 2014 at 1:45 pm

    I doubt very much if the incidents will result in an honest and useful dialogue on race relations. Too many people on both sides of the issue have firmly made up their minds about race relations and are not interested in differing views.

    After the Donald Sterling affair there was a call for a national dialogue on race relations. Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, said “If I see a black kid in a hoodie, and it’s late at night, I’m walking to the other side of the street.” He also went on the say “If on that side of the street there’s a guy that has tattoos all over his face — white guy, bald head, tattoos everywhere — I’m walking back to the other side of the street.”

    Cuban was roundly criticized for the first statement although in tone it was not that much different from what Jesse Jackson said years ago. The reference to a black kid in a hoodie was deemed as a racist reference to Trayvon Martin, and therefore was not an acceptable part of a national dialogue.

    Unfortunately there are black race hustlers (e.g. Al Sharpton) whose idea of a dialogue on race relations is for us whites to admit we are evil racists and any race relation problems are entirely our fault and by the way, we should pay reparations.

  • arrowone December 9, 2014 at 3:11 pm

    And Sharpton continues his trips in and out of the White House. If I owed over four million in taxes you know where I’d be?

  • Red Rocker December 9, 2014 at 8:11 pm

    Thus, the insights cease.

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