When white sports fans turn on black athletes

There is a morally corrupt contract that white fans make with black athletes. We will accept you: but only if you surrender your political voice

By Samuel G. Freedman | The Guardian | October 5, 2017


At the start of the 2014 National Football League season, the Baltimore Ravens unveiled a statue of their star linebacker Ray Lewis outside the team’s stadium. During his 17-year career, Lewis had been named All-Pro seven times, made the Pro Bowl a dozen times, and led the Ravens to two Super Bowl titles. For maximum dramatic effect, the last one took place on 4 February 2013, in Lewis’s final game.

“Baltimore is my forever city,” Lewis said at the unveiling ceremony. Indeed, not only had the Ravens’ fans celebrated his passion, ferocity and intelligence as a middle linebacker, but they had forgiven Lewis for a serious transgression early in his career. He was implicated in a fatal shooting outside an Atlanta nightclub and had to cooperate with prosecutors in a deal to plead guilty to a lesser charge of obstruction of justice.

Yet no sooner did Ray Lewis drop to both knees in prayer before the Ravens’ game against Jacksonville two Sundays ago – part of a wave of player protests against both police brutality and President Donald Trump’s profane attacks on NFL activists – then cries emerged for his statue to be removed.

A grassroots, online petition had drawn nearly 75,000 signatures as of 1 October, part of the second weekend of pro games since Trump’s demand that any “son of a bitch” who does not stand for the national anthem be fired.

One could ascribe the sudden transformation of Lewis from hero to villain, and the broader criticism of protesting NFL players, coaches, and even owners, to a genuine disagreement over the meaning of patriotism.

One could attribute it to a sincere misunderstanding that the protests, begun in August 2016 by Colin Kaepernick, always were directed at rogue police officers and the court system that exonerates them, not at the military or first responders, as President Trump has claimed.