I sadly haven’t had much time to read throughout the day (I actually have to do work now, how horrible for me), but one of the recent books I devoured that’s currently exceedingly relevant is The Game Is Not A Game: The Power, Protest, and Politics of American Sports by Robert “Scoop” Jackson (I’ve been going through tons of fiction, my most favorite being Luster with a review here). Although I read The Game Is Not A Game a few weeks ago, I felt it’s most relevant right now during-and-basically-post the widespread instances of athlete “activism” in both the college and professional realm. Jackson is a National Senior Writer for ESPN who’s covered race, politics, and sports for decades. He is a brilliant writer in that he illustrates important narratives in the world of sports and always ties them back to the greater context outside of arenas and stadiums.
Some of my favorite chapters in the book are “White and Woke: The Quiet, Not-So-Risky, but So Necessary Politics of Gregg Popovich and Stever Kerr (An Abstract Myth),” “Colin Kaepernick: The Symbol versus the Shield versus the US versus Us,” and “I (Still) Can’t Breathe: Players versus Ownership versus Community and the Politics of Social Activism in American Professional Athletics.” I think of the three chapters, the most currently applicable one is “I (Still) Can’t Breathe,” which I could have discussed when I prematurely expected athletes would remain on strike in solidarity with actual organizers and police violence victims in this post. Jackson perfectly and briefly summed up the responsibility professional athletes, coaches, and everyone involved in the sports world have in the real fight for justice (which many of them still seem to think revolves around voting, locking up killer cops, and displays of “unity”) when he wrote “Power speaks, people listen. Privilege speaks, people hear. It all depends on the messenger,” (Jackson 51). In his chapter on Colin Kaepernick and his 2016 protests against police brutality, Jackson delved into the disparities between how white people felt about his kneeling vs. how Black people felt. Of course, the white feelings were and still are motivated by a malicious hatred of Black people in general and especially Black people like Colin protesting their lives being taken by killers in uniforms. After Jackson shared stats about the protest, he wrote, “These data can easily be used as a basis for validating that race in America goes so much deeper than just color. And the stark polarization of the numbers indicates how differently we see, view, and feel about race-based issues such as the anthem protests, as well as what black and white Americans fundamentally want to believe and take pride in,” (59). We already know that no matter how Black people protest, white people will be angry. A few days ago, the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans stood together with their arms linked in a pre-game sign of “unity” and the Chiefs fans immediately booed them. There was no kneeling, no action toward the American flag or American National Anthem, and still of course, the white fans hated seeing Black, brown, and white athletes having an elemental come together moment and it was still meant with anger and vitriol from fans who only love Black people when they’re tossing and catching balls on a field.
I briefly mentioned how I shouldn’t have celebrated the athletes protesting too early as their demonstrations of solidarity were quickly squashed upon meeting/talking with former President Obama who, as anticipated, ended the strike and turned their attention toward efforts to vote themselves and encourage voting from others. As if voting in a historically unfair process for imperialists is of more long-term value than a massive first-of-its-kind labor strike by professional athletes. Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, the professional basketball and baseball teams who refused to play their games after Jacob Blake was killed by Kenosha PD immediately returned to their facilities after agreeing to form social justice commissions. Following the protests, the NBA announced, “As part of the agreement with players, the NBA will establish a social justice commission with representation from players, coaches and governors, which will focus on such issues as “increasing access to voting, promoting civic engagement and advocating for meaningful police and criminal justice reform.” I don’t know how Jackson would or does feel about the strikes and their quick turnaround to voting efforts, but I imagine The Game Is Not A Game would not feature them in a chapter. Still in Kaepernick’s section, Jackson wrote, “America kills. It kills those we don’t like, it kills what we fear, it kills those we oppose, it kills those who oppose us, it kills itself. Figuratively and literally,” (65). Later in the final chapter about sports protests, Jackson discussed the issue of power and who wields it. If athletes have the power but they’re constantly lead by the beliefs of the coaches or owners, real actions against police violence and racism may never actually take place. However, if they follow in the footsteps of those brave competitors of the past like Muhammad Ali, Jackie Robinson, Carlos Delgado, and many others, and join grassroots organizers in their demonstrations (and avoid anything Obama says at all costs), we might one day see what Black athletes in America actually want to achieve. In the final pages of the book, Jackson said, “Sports historically has been a pulpit for protest…sports has been the vehicle by which many voices have been heard, many minds changed, many ideologies adjusted, many generations altered in thought,” (199). I hope this statement will always remain true.