Saturday, September 1, 2018

Every Black Person Should Read This - So Should Every Other Rational Person

I read an essay from basketball Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and it prompted me to think of things that were much bigger than race.  He addressed things that affect the black race in America, but everyone can… and should… learn from what he shared.

NOTE: Even if you are the world’s biggest racial bigot – and PLEASE do not tell me if you are, I will completely hate you for just that alone (which is your right to think that way… but also mine to judge you) – there are valuable non-racial lessons to take away from his essay.

Here is a link to his essay, “What sports have taught me about race in America.”

Every black person should read this, but so should everyone else who is interested in making this world a better place through a better understanding.

Here are lessons that passed through my mind while reading this:
1. Your Success = Your Ability to Influence
2. Success in Sports = Way to Allow People to Hear You
3. The Hope of Glamour = Lack of Life Preparation
4. A Real Patriot is Loyal to Values – not Blind to Bosses

For those who feel like reading more, here are some of the lessons it explains in ways I never could before reading it.

Lesson #1: Your Success = Your Ability to Influence

When I first started reading this, words from one of my favorite people in the entire world, Darrick Scruggs, came roaring in my head.  He once told me that, “Once you become successful, your words become magic.”

Darrick was absolutely right.  It made all of the sense in the world to me, but I never was able to word it as elegantly… or as brilliantly succinct.

All sorts of people have ideas, and some of those ideas are wonderful.  They could help you or me, maybe even make the entire planet a better place.

We might never hear them, because they don’t have any way of sharing those great ideas with us.  Media isn’t covering them, unless they’re successful.

Worse yet, we don’t take their ideas seriously, because they aren’t as successful as others, even if their idea would help make us more successful.

Abdul-Jabbar quoted Muhammad Ali, “When you saw me in the boxing ring fighting, it wasn’t just so I could beat my opponent. My fighting had a purpose. I had to be successful in order to get people to listen to the things I had to say.

There are times when I’m feeling down and consider quitting, but then I realize that there are people who need some of the insight I have to offer.  Some people listen to me today, but I keep asking myself, “How many more people could I reach if I became more successful?”

I doubt that I’m the only one who needs more success to be able to reach more people.

Lesson #2: Success in Sports = Way to Allow People to Hear You

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar broke a lot of basketball records during his playing career.  Today, some of those records are broken.  Many still stand, and he commented on them.

“At the time I set those records… I celebrated them because they confirmed that all my hard work and discipline since childhood was effective in me achieving my goal of becoming the best possible athlete…The even greater significance those records had to me then, and has to me even more now, is in providing a platform to keep the discussion of social inequalities – whether racial, gender-related, or economic – alive and vibrant so that we may come together as a nation and fix them.”

Let’s face it.  If you are rich and I am poor (or the other way around), we’re probably not talking with each other, much less hearing each other.

Each of us has problems, and they’re very real.  However, if we don’t know anything about you or your perspective, the “solutions” we propose for our own problems might be sensitive to your needs… but probably not.  Most likely, we won’t care, either.

Many athletes come from places with a lot of problems.  Populations in those areas tend to be high, but often people’s voices in these areas are heard at the volume of a whisper, if we hear them at all.

When someone from these places becomes a major sports star, that athlete all sorts of media coverage.  If they’re a “superstar,” many people will listen to them, regardless.

However, if they are anything other than a superstar, their voices are heard a lot less.

But they play in a place where everyone is watching!

Maybe they can do this for a long time, but most likely, they’ll only get a limited amount of time within this major platform.

Currently, a lightning rod for discussion is whether Colin Kaepernick is right or wrong for kneeling during the US National Anthem.  Essentially, it led to the end of his career, not officially, but realistically.

Was he right or wrong to kneel?

As your own person, you will have your own answer to this.

Here is my answer.  It’s sort of a long one.

IF Colin was kneeling with the intent of disrespecting the military, then I believe he was (mostly) wrong.  The key question here is… when he knelt during The Anthem, did he do this thinking, “I am against the military, and I am going use this to protest against them?”

Even then, it’s his right, and the military fought hard for him (and us) to have this right.

IF Colin was kneeling with the intent of making a statement that the United States is unconditionally horrible, then I believe he was (mostly) wrong.  The key question here is… when he knelt during The Anthem, did he do this thinking, “$^@&*^% the USA?”

Even then, again, it’s his right.

IF Colin was kneeling as a way of protesting to begin a discussion about important things that are not quite right in this country, then I believe he is right.

I believe he is right!

Here is a better question (I think).  If he does not kneel during the National Anthem to make himself heard, what else do you suggest?

He’s not a superstar (he was well-known but people weren’t hanging on his every word before he started kneeling).  So when else, besides during the National Anthem, would he get as many people to notice (i.e. “listen”) to him?

More importantly, what about the people who ARE getting wronged but come from communities where most people will never come to listen to them?

In 1967, many people in Detroit decided to have a city-wide riot.  The ENTIRE NATION paid attention to them then.  Let’s face it.  If we were alive and not a similar victim, we weren’t really paying attention.

Do we prefer THAT over kneeling?

Did many people rioting have a right to be mad?  Yes, absolutely!  Many police were targeting black people and doling out physical abuse disproportionate the crime (when there was any crime at all).

Unfortunately, rioting brought a lot of negative attention to the very people who needed outside help.

So rioting was a success as far as getting attention.

If was a failure for attracting the type of help they really needed.

I hear a lot of people say that people (i.e. athletes) should protest on their own time… on their own platform… rather than “disrespect” the national anthem.

My question to these people is… when else are we going to “listen” to them?  Are we going to THEIR outside platforms to listen to them?

In most cases, the answer is, “No.”

How else have black people gotten attention for being on the wrong end of unjustifiable police brutality treatment?

The only answer I’ve ever heard or seen is riots!

Do we really want that?

I think Colin did a great thing by kneeling.  He used the NFL platform to PEACEFULLY protest something that’s been a problem in our country for over a century.

Social media is increasing exposure to it, but Colin taking a knee is bringing the discussion to the forefront to a lot more people… a lot more quickly.

If he was not a professional athlete, would we really care whether he “took a knee?”

I bet you know the answer.

So being successful, even on a lesser scale than being a professional athlete, gives you the power to have people listen to you… to have people WANT to listen to you.

Lesson #3: The Hope of Glamour = Lack of Life Preparation

To me, this might be the biggest lesson Abdul-Jabbar’s essay makes.

Obviously, there is a lot of money to be made IF you are uber-successful as a professional athlete, musician, or an actor/actress.

This is fantastic, and I do not begrudge anyone who can make a lot of money doing any of these things.  Frankly, it’s one of the things that makes America great.

It’s also one of the most dangerous.


Abdul-Jabbar provides this excellently worded insight.

“Some see sports as a path for their children to escape the endless cycle of poverty. Parents pour all their energy into training and grooming their child to become a professional athlete, sometimes at the expense of their academic education. Yet, the odds of success are so slim that they are doing more damage to their child’s future. Even those who make it to the pros usually have a short career: the average in the NFL is 3.3 years, and in the NBA 4.8 years – and most don’t earn enough from those short careers to retire on. We can’t promote professional sports as a real hope any more than we can endorse the lottery as a career strategy. That’s why athletes are so motivated to speak out about the unequal opportunities that leave people desperate to cling to the hope of even a distant longshot.”

How often are we failing to plan, because we’re applying the “hoping and praying” technique to life that salvation is “just around the corner?”

There are plenty of paths to eventual success. Are you confident enough in yourself to take any of those paths and ride it out, just in case the “big one” doesn’t come?

BONUS: An Ugly Truth

It doesn’t really fit as a lesson, but it’s too important not to share… and it’s quick!

“They want black athletes to be grateful that they’ve been given a seat at the table and to therefore ignore their brothers and sisters who have little hope of achieving that kind of success.”

As disgusting as this is, it does not only apply to black people.  There is a larger lesson to learn.  (Although, please take note of the point he made… it’s easily overlooked.)

We could easily replace “black people” with “those less fortunate.”

How often are we doing that to other people who come from more humble backgrounds than ours and treating them pretty much the same way, even if that person has the same race as us?

Lesson #4: A Real Patriot is Loyal to Values – not Blind to Bosses

In his essay, Abdul-Jabbar quotes Mark Twain, “[T]rue patriotism, the only rational patriotism, is loyalty to the Nation all the time, loyalty to the Government when it deserves it.”

He separates loyalty to the Nation (always there) vs. the Government (always changing).

Are we really sure that our Government is always trying to protect us?

Colin Kaepernick might be speaking out on behalf of wrongful injustices to black people.  Honestly, the way I see it, he’s standing up for rightful equality all of us deserve.

Isn’t THAT what this country is supposed to represent?

I feel so lucky to be an American.  I don’t always feel so lucky while being an American.

I’m always proud to be an American.  I’m not always proud of what America is doing to others in the World… nor to everyone who is part of it.

I’m proud that Colin could take the knee and not lose his life.

I’m not proud that he took the knee and lost his career.

It’s peaceful actions like this that makes America great, but it’s also peaceful actions like this that lets us know that America is not always great… not for everyone.

Is it always for you?

I vote for knees triggering discussions rather than over riots triggering destruction and scorn.

What are ways you can “peacefully take a knee?”

What platforms can you use to share your message?

How can you be successful enough so that people you want to reach can hear you?

Thank you, Kareem, for writing such an excellent, thought-provoking essay.

Once again, here is a link to what he wrote:

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