Take a knee, take a dollar, shut up and dribble? Why no one in sports should “stick to sports”


It may seem like the sports protesters are losing.

Colin Kaepernick still has no NFL job, not even a sniffle, and his recent tryout with the Raiders could have been a sham.

The LIV golf tour, funded by Saudi Arabia in a classic case of sportswashing, seems to be going very well. LIV is picking up cash-crazed PGA Tour players left and right, and certainly won’t go broke.

World sporting bodies exclude Russian athletes from major events, but Russia’s relentless attack on Ukraine continues.

Steve Kerr of the Warriors, Gabe Kapler of the Giants and other leaders continue to take strong public stances on gun safety laws, and yet our country, with the support of the Supreme Court, is beginning to feel like Tombstone 1881 – if Wyatt Earp and the boys had packed military assault weapons.

Most big league teams now support LGBTQ+ rights, at least on the surface, but those rights are systematically chiselled.


Cause lost? Are these protesters just skating? Or worse, creating harmful backfire, damaging the causes they seek to promote?

Here are some free tips for noisemakers out there: Please don’t give up.

You are welcome not shut up and dribble.

Certainly, there is plenty of room for cynicism and discouragement. A sports journalist friend recently tweeted a photo of cool Pride gear being sold at the Atlanta Braves’ stadium memorabilia store.

Another sportswriter tweeted, “Do they sell tomahawks in Pride colors?”

There is growing suspicion that many professional teams view the Pride movement as a cash cow, so they show surface support, while quietly funding the opposition. The San Francisco Giants have led the way in American sports by showing their support for Pride and LGBTQ+ causes, but the team’s majority owner is making major donations to powerful candidates who oppose gay rights.

The A’s also sell Pride caps, and owner John Fisher is a major donor to conservative candidates who oppose gay rights, gun safety issues and other annoyances.

These same politicians, backed broadly by these team owners and others, also oppose women’s reproductive freedom, gender equality and other women’s rights. Last week, the Supreme Court dealt a blow to all of those things, spoiling the 50th anniversary of Title IX.

Prayer has become a problem, as in a case where it borders on obligation. This week, the Supreme Court upheld the right of a Washington state high school football coach to kneel in prayer in midfield after every game, contrary to school district rules.

The school district wasn’t telling the coach not to pray, just telling him not to make a public display of it, where players might feel pressured to participate or risk losing their coach’s favor. Was the Supreme Court upholding religious freedom or breaking down the wall between church and state?

“Glad to see what happens when the coach is Muslim,” tweeted sportswriter Jeff Pearlman.

Wimbledon started this week and Russian and Belarusian players are banned. That rules out men’s world No. 1 Daniil Medvedev and women’s No. 6 Aryna Sabalenka.

So Wimbledon takes its pieces from some in the media and social media. Novak Djokovic called the ban “crazy”, which certifies that the ban is not mad.

It’s terrible to punish athletes who have no say in the politics of their country, but it’s even more terrible not to use all the tools available to discredit and undermine a ruthless government that has carried the use of sport as a political tool on an entirely new and unpleasant level.

It gets complicated. Chinese athletes are not banned from Wimbledon, where 11 Chinese players will tread the sacred grass, even though one of China’s least sins against humanity is the continued kidnapping of tennis player Peng Shuai, who went through the government by accusing a senior official of sexual misconduct.

Everyone is in bed with China, despite the country’s concentration camps and widespread violation of human rights. NBA commissioner Adam Silver recently defended his league’s close business ties to China, noting that most Fortune 500 companies do business with China.

It’s a relationship that will keep the NBA on its toes forever. It’s an awkward dance – your partner is beautiful, but carries a bag full of nitroglycerin, and the tempo of the dance music keeps increasing.

It all seems hopeless and futile for athletes fighting for positive change, but some things work.

Kerr and Kapler went from talking about supporting gun safety laws to helping fund the effort. They support fundraising, and if there’s anything in America that sounds louder than an AR-15 in a closed classroom, it’s money.

In Georgia, where many political/social battles are fought, Charles Barkley, Stephen Curry, and the WNBA and NBA have helped change public opinion and laws, and have had an impact in elections.

Kaepernick likely won’t get a quarterback job, but he’s brought energy to a movement and provides leadership and a role model. Although Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and others remind us that money is more important than anything else in the world, Kaepernick and others provide a strong counter-argument.

Civil rights leaders refer to “the struggle”, and the reason they do so is because it is a struggle. Quick wins will not happen. Repression is inevitable.

But please don’t give up, you who are struggling. Keep kneeling, shouting, shouting, talking, walking and leading the way. express yourself and dribble.

Scott Ostler is a columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]: @scottostler


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