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Kraig Debro

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Sports' Mixed Response to Trayvon

Posted: 04/ 2/2012 6:46 pm

Last week, in a story not well publicized, the National Football League Players Association issued a statement on the death of Trayvon Martin. The action comes days after the dramatic pictures taken by Dwayne Wade and the Miami Heat. First Wade and then the team took a picture of themselves wearing hoodies with their hands inside their hoodied pockets.

Martin was wearing a hoodie on the day he was shot and killed by a man armed with a 9mm handgun standing post as a neighborhood watchman. This same man had an arrest record for fighting with police, and had had a restraining order taken out on him by a former girlfriend.

Unlike the football player's union the NBPA, National Basketball Players Association, went a step further. In a statement, the union called for the arrest of the man who followed Trayvon after being told by police dispatchers not to, and then shot him. George Zimmerman has not been arrested. What was Martin's crime? You've heard of driving while black? Well this appears to be a case of walking while black. According to his father, Martin had walked to a local store. Trayvon was walking back to the residence where he'd been earlier when Zimmerman spotted Trayvon, and then some say stalked him, and shot him.

Sadly, the occurrences of unarmed black males being shot aren't rare. I live in Oakland, lived through the Oscar Grant Shooting and covered it as a reporter. I also covered the Amadou Diallo, and Malcolm Ferguson police shootings in New York City as well as the case of police officers accused and convicted of torturing Abner Louima.

This is only a partial list.

I don't remember a single athlete speaking out in any of those cases. There is something about the Trayvon Martin shooting that has galvanized athletes and motivated them to speak about what most of us see as yet another gross injustice where a black male is the victim.

Maybe it's the fact that Trayvon Martin was only 17. Maybe it's that he was not armed, and was not committing any crimes. Or maybe it's that Trayvon had no criminal past, no criminal record. Maybe it was just the common, ordinary hoodie Trayvon wore when he was killed. Maybe the link is his skin color and a piece of clothing many of us, black, white and brown, have in our closets

Whatever it is that has motivated athletes, it's having an impact on the nation. CNN's Roland Martin, MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry, and Current TV"s Keith Olbermann all have worn hoodies on the air this past week.

Average sports fans are looking through a window into how black athletes are in many ways just like Trayvon. That's why Wade, the Heat, the NFLPA player representative president Domonique Foxworth and others are wearing hoodies. It's a symbol of solidarity with Trayvon. They're saying 'we wear hoodies too; we could have been shot and killed just as easily.'

The hoodie offensive is getting a lot of exposure. The Miami Heat picture was covered on the most popular TV sports networks and on the endless array of sports talk radio.

It's not just the Heat players expressing their feelings and frustrations. New York Knicks players Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire took to Twitter to express outrage and wear hoodies in their avatars. NFL linebacker Ray Lewis, whose three children live in Sanford, FL, where the shooting took place, attended at least one rally calling for justice in the Trayvon Martin case.

Several NBA players have worn tributes to Trayvon on their shoes. That list includes LeBron James, who not only wrote on his shoes but tweeted the Heat hoodie picture side by side with the Black Power Salute photo of Tommie Smith and John Carlos from the 1968 Mexico City Summer Olympics.

Are the athletes now suggesting they are ready to confront some of this nation's most compelling social disorders, such as poverty, housing, and health care? Should they?

A better question is, are these same people ready to give up many of their endorsement deals long enough to make changes and be recognized for the good of their intentions and not their politics.

Not all athletes are making a statement or taking a public stand. Venus and Serena Williams have been Miami for at least a week playing in a tournament. Both claim Florida as their official residence, yet there is nothing on Serena's website about Trayvon. And a Google search for any statements by either sister didn't find any statements.

Trayvon is black, but you don't have to be to want justice. It would be great if Serena and Venus as black women, as Florida residents, as woman who lost a sister to violence, would issue a statement. It would have the effect of spreading the movement into a sport that has always been outwardly apolitical but inwardly republican.

The Williams sisters shouldn't have to say something just because they're black. And white people shouldn't have to remain silent just because they're white.

Athletes in two major sports have yet to say a word about Trayvon; major league baseball players and hockey players.

The only reference Trayvon on the MLBPA site is a reference to Trayvon Robinson, a young man with less than 50 at-bats. The NHLPA doesn't have anything on Trayvon either.

That's not to say the players in either league don't care about issues involving poor kids. The NHLPA says its "Goals and Dreams" Program has donated $20 million over the last 11 years. The union says the money has helped 60,000 poor kids in dozens of countries learn how to play hockey and get hockey related equipment.

And the MLBPA Trust says it does everything from providing life-saving medicine to people in the Dominican Republic, to working with local transit agencies to give "underprivileged kids a chance to attend games as personal guests of players."

All of that is invaluable, but this issue is without endorsement killing controversy. The NHLPA and the MLBPA has nothing to lose: only respect to gain.

When you're wearing a hoodie with it pulled down tight. No man named Zimmerman can tell if you're black or you're white.