It must have been the spring of 1980 and it must have been Bob Vernon, social studies teacher extraordinaire, the man in charge of Westminster Middle School and all these years later the man in charge of the entire school.
President Carter had announced the United States’ intention to skip the Moscow Olympics and the subject had reached our classroom.
You’re a nation putting on the world’s biggest party, all set to celebrate your rightness in the world, but you’ve also invaded Afghanistan, made it a puppet at the barrel of a gun and incurred international wrath for doing it, so what is your Cold War opponent to do?
Well, one thing it can do is not show up to your party, not give tacit approval to your criminality, not let you celebrate yourself the way you want to celebrate yourself.
If you’re trying to make sense of what the NBA, WNBA, a good portion of Major League Baseball and who knows what leagues and athletes might follow, refusing to take the court and the diamond on Wednesday, perhaps start there.
Horrendous things keep happening in this country. They’re not isolated. They’ve been going on for a long, long time and many of the internal powers that be, in a position to do something about it, have dug into the status quo instead.
What are informed, socially aware Black athletes and a Black-athlete dominated league to do?
Walk on by?
Already the NBA had adorned its uniforms with messages of accountability, social justice and the wish that people vote, but the atrocity happened again, even in a far more violent moment than the one that killed George Floyd.
Jacob Blake isn’t dead, but it’s a cosmic accident that he’s not after being shot seven times in the back, even in front of his children, by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
How does this happen one time? How does it happen twice, five or 10 times? How does this keep happening?
So, the Milwaukee Bucks, who might be in line to win the Larry O’Brien Trophy — could we maybe change the name of that award to the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Trophy or the Bill Russell Trophy? — as NBA champion this strange and different season, remained in their locker room Wednesday afternoon, fully aware it might result in a forfeit, cutting their advantage over the Orlando Magic to 3-2 with Game 6 scheduled for Friday.
The Magic, however, in a show of solidarity, did not want the forfeit.
Then it was Oklahoma City and Houston’s choice not to play their Game 5, scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Then the NBA took its entire schedule off the the docket, whatever might come next, should anything come next, remaining to be seen.
The NBA Board of Governors is meeting this morning, presumably to figure it out.
“The Thunder respects and supports our players peacefully bringing awareness to the critical issues happening in our country,” was the OKC franchise’s official statement, issued Wednesday night. “Our organization will continue to work relentlessly to create meaningful change.”
Score one for Thunder GM Sam Presti, who must have been behind “relentlessly."
The Bucks’ statement knocked it out of the park.
“When we take the court and represent Milwaukee and Wisconsin, we are expected to play at a high level, give maximum effort and hold each other accountable,” it read. “We hold ourselves to that standard and in this moment, we are demanding the same from our lawmakers and law enforcement.
“We are calling for justice for Jacob Blake and demand the officers be held accountable. For this to occur, it is imperative for the Wisconsin State Legislature to reconvene after months of inaction and take up meaningful measures to address issues of police accountability, brutality and criminal justice reform.
“We encourage all citizens to educate themselves, take peaceful and responsible action, and remember to vote on Nov. 3."
It is exactly the right sentiment.
How can anybody be against the ideas that police brutalization of black men has to stop, that a government must govern, that protests should be peaceful and that a citizenry has the responsibility to vote. It’s an entirely American message.
If that way to look at it at the top does little for you, perhaps the words of Los Angeles Clipper coach Doc Rivers, spoken Tuesday after his team’s Game 5 victory over Dallas, might.
“We’re the ones getting killed. We’re the ones that were denied to live in certain communities,” he said. “We’ve been hung. We’ve been shot at.
“All you do is keep hearing about fear. It’s amazing to me why we keep loving this country and this country does not love us back.”
His voice, and probably his heart, were breaking as he said it.
If NBA players and the league decide, as long as the powers that be continue twiddling their thumbs, digging in for the status quo, that we don’t deserve the entertainment they deliver, at least until the 2021 season begins, can you blame them?
What’s the point of being on the right side of history and the greater good if you’re not going to use your platform to stand on?
Really, aren’t we all charged with trying to form a more perfect union?
Or, if it helps, think about the price paid by Carl Lewis and hundreds of other great American athletes 40 years ago.
Horrible things were taking place in the world and the perpetrators were throwing this big party and wanted everybody to forget about all those horrible things. The U.S. chose not to take part.
Wednesday, the Milwaukee Bucks, and others inspired by their example, didn’t want anybody to forget what had happened in their state just two days earlier. Business as usual wasn't going to work.
You can hate them for it. It's entirely your right. But you know why they’re doing it, and you know it’s got to stop.