Sports and Black Lives Matter

By Ariana Figueroa

A social issue that is impacting sports is the Black Lives Matter movement. Professional athletes such as LeBron James, Andrew Hawkins, Derrick Rose are among other players who have show support for the movement and have drawn attention to the social issues of black Americans and police.

For some background information, Black Lives Matters is an activist movement that originated in the African American community. The purpose of the social movement is to address the issues of violence toward black people such as deaths of black people by law enforcement, police brutality and racial inequality in the criminal justice system.

The movement began in 2013 as a hashtag on Twitter (#BlackLivesMatter) after Florida resident George Zimmerman was acquitted, or found not guilt, in the shooting death of African American teen Trayvon Martin. The social movement gained national attention in 2014 after law enforcement officers killed Eric Garner and Michael Brown, who were two African-American men.

Protests and riots erupted in Ferguson, Missouri after Michael Brown was shot and killed by officer Darren Wilson. There was a robbery at a nearby convenience store on Aug. 9, 2104 and Michael Brown and his friend, Dorian Johnson, matched the description of the robbers and officer Darren Wilson approached them. An altercation occurred between Michael Brown, who was unarmed, and officer Darren Wilson that resulted in the officer firing his gun and killing Michael Brown. Witnesses said Michael Brown was throwing his hands in the air to surrender. The shooting angered the black community in Ferguson and the “hands up, don’t shoot” scenario was widely accepted in the community and was used as a nation-wide protest that can be found in sports.

Missouri football players for the St. Louis Rams recreated the “hands up, don’t shoot” stance as a result to the shooting of Michael Brown. During the Rams game against the Oakland Raiders, five football players (Jared Cook, Kenny Britt, Stedman Bailey, Chris Givens and Tavon Austin) showed support to the Ferguson protestors as they stopped near the tunnel and raised their hands and nodded. The St. Louis Police Officers Association called for the NFL to punish those five players and for them to publically apologize. The NFL did not fine the players. The Rams coach Jeff Fisher said his players were expressing freedom of speech.

The Rams were not the first team to publically support the Black Lives Matter movement and they are not the last. In protest to Eric Garner’s death, NBA player Derrick Rose wore an “I can’t breathe” T-shirt during his warm-ups before a game against the Golden State Warriors.

Eric Garner was an African American man who died on Staten Island, New York City after New York Police Department (NYPD) put him in a chokehold for about 15 seconds while they were arresting him. As Eric Garner was being arrested on suspicion of selling cigarette packs without tax stamps, he said 11 times to police officers “I can’t breathe.” He was pronounced dead at the hospital an hour later. The New York City Medical Examiner’s Office concluded that Eric Garner’s death was a combination of the chokehold and poor health.

Other professional athletes have shown support for Eric Garner by wearing “I can’t breathe” T-shirts for practice. Some professional athletes that have worn “I can’t breathe” shirts are LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Garnett, Deron Williams, Jarrett Jack and Alan Anderson.

Professional athletes are typically not encouraged to take stances on social issues or controversies but with the Black Lives Matter movement sweeping the nation, more athletes are showing their support and stance in this social issue.

And some of these athletes who have shown support for Black Lives Matter have received backlash for supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. St. Louis Rams tight end Jared Cook has received death threats and hatful messages on social media after he raised his hands during a game to support the “hands up don’t shoot” statement.

Another social statement that was made in support of Black Likes Matter was demonstrated at this years Super Bowl 50 football game. The athletes didn’t make the statement, but halftime performer Beyoncé Knowles made one. She made a tribute to the Black Panthers and Black Lives Matter movement with her new single “Formation.”

The Super Bowl is one of the most televised game of the year and it was the perfect opportunity to make a social statement with such a large audience. Beyonce’s performance showed her support for the movement and brought attention to the Black Lives Matter message. Her “Formation” music video has references to Black Lives Matter with her on a sinking police car and walls with “Stop Shooting Us” written on them. Beyonce used sports to convey the Black Lives Matter message.

One last example of how the Black Lives Matter movement has played a part in sports can be seen with Cleveland Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins. Before the Cleveland Browns’ game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Andrew Hawkins wore a black T-shirt over his uniform. His shirt read “Justice for Tamir Rice and John Crawford III.”

On Nov. 22, 2014 Tamir Rice was a 12-year-old African American boy who was shot and killed by Cleveland police officers while playing in the park with an Airsoft replica.  Tamir Rice died on Nov. 23, 2014.

The shooting of John Crawford III happened on Aug. 5, 2014. John Crawford III was an African American man who was shot and killed by a Beavercreek police officer near Ohio while holding a toy BB gun. A jury did not indict the two officers involved in the shooting. This event caused a Black Lives Matter protest.

By wearing the shirt, Andrew Hawkins sparked controversy at the game. He angered the Cleveland Police, which demanded an apology, and he publically showed his support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

The Black Lives Matter movement is a social issue that has impacted sports. Sports are a way for a community to come together and professional athletes have that to take a stance and support the Black Lives Matter movement.

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