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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Opinion: athletes demand change

Illustration by Evan Matz
Illustration by Evan Matz

It has been over a month since San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, sat during the national anthem prior to a preseason game in September. What happened next has been nothing short of a movement that has ignited a conversation about police brutality and the killing of unarmed black people by police in the United States. The peaceful protests have spanned from Garfield High School in Seattle, where the Bulldogs all knelt as a team prior to a game, to everywhere in between, including the Seattle Seahawks and the team’s arm-linking display of unity.

Western senior Jeffrey Parker, a forward on the men’s basketball team, said he applauds athletes protesting during the national anthem.

“They’re just trying to show their support to the families that lost their loved ones and have been mourning for the deaths of their loved ones,” Parker said.

Parker said his team most likely won’t kneel during the anthem at Western games this fall. Through his parents, Parker said he was taught to respect American history, including the flag and all it represents.

“I do respect the way this nation was built, even though my race has suffered quite a bit. I still respect my ancestors, I still respect slaves that paved the way for me, I respect African American leaders in the past, such as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Huey Newton,” Parker said. “I respect those leaders and that’s why I stand for the national anthem. They’ve paved the way for me to even be in America.”

On three consecutive days in September, current and former Seahawks players voiced their respective opinions in regard to the conversation Kaepernick created. The first was recently retired running back Marshawn Lynch, who voiced his opinion in an interview on Conan O’Brien’s late-night television show on Sept. 20.

“They’re just trying to show their support to the families that lost their loved ones and have been mourning for the deaths of their loved ones.” 

Jeffrey Parker

“I just hope people open up they eyes and see that there’s really a problem going on, and something needs to be done for it to stop,” Lynch said. “If you really not racist you won’t see what he’s [Kaepernick] doing as a threat to America, but it’s just a problem that we have.”

At a press conference on Sept. 21, cornerback Richard Sherman used his time with the media not to discuss his team’s upcoming game against Kaepernick’s 49ers, but rather to say people were missing the “point” of the protests.

“The reason these guys are kneeling, the reason we’re locking arms is to bring people together to make people aware that this is not right. It’s not right for people to get killed in the street,” Sherman said. “When a guy takes a knee, you can ignore it. You can say he’s not being patriotic, he’s not honoring the flag. I’m doing none of those things. I’m saying, straight up, this is wrong and we need to do something.”

Wide receiver Doug Baldwin, whose father is a police officer, further pressed the issue in a press conference on Sept. 22 by proposing all 50 state attorney generals review training policies for police in an effort to eliminate militaristic cultures. Baldwin also expressed a desire for a higher emphasis on de-escalation tactics and crisis management measures among law enforcement.

“This is not an isolated incident,” Baldwin said. “This is not an isolated conversation. We see that now. And the advancement of technology has proven that, from the video of Rodney King in 1991 to the numerous incidents that we now have visual evidence of today.”

Parker echoed Baldwin’s stance and proposed communities start speaking up to begin working toward a common goal, the goal being police officers taking accountability for their actions.

“We need police to admit, ‘like OK, this is wrong, we’ve been messing up and we’ve got to start doing better,’ and once we have these communities coming together, we can take it to the government and they can start changing some things,” Parker said. “To be honest, at the end of the day, God is the only one that is going to change it and I believe it will change eventually.”

“The reason these guys are kneeling, the reason we’re locking arms is to bring people together to make people aware that this is not right.”

Richard Sherman

As for me, I am a white man. I’ve never experienced police brutality. I’ve never had to consider whether I am being treated differently because of my race. My parents never had to talk to me about how I’m supposed to act in the presence of police. I’ve never even been pulled over.

My perspective can never match the black community, one that has dealt with discrimination and racial profiling for centuries. What is clear to me though, is it’s time our leaders listen to pleas for change instead of nitpicking one’s methods of nonviolent protest.

Parker hit the nail on the head in encompassing the common message from athletes like Kaepernick, Lynch, Sherman and Baldwin. That is, police forces need to be held accountable for their actions, just as every other person in this country should be held accountable when they commit a crime.

Based on a study by Philip Stinson, criminal justice professor at Bowling Green State University, Parker and the other Seahawks are right. Stinson found that, of the thousands of fatal officer involved shootings since 2005, 77 resulted in those responsible being charged with manslaughter or murder; even worse, of the 77, only 26 were convicted. Further, 2015’s Mapping Police Violence research project found that United States police killed over 100 unarmed black people.

Body camera requirements for police officers could be a start. The cameras can’t lie, and have shown us the horrors of traffic stops escalating into senseless shootings, while also having the added benefit of protecting the reputation of police officers acting ethically.

No one has the perfect solution to this issue. However, the resounding plea from players has been a call for one thing: change. More importantly, they seek change from a construct that’s designed to serve and protect all Americans, no matter their skin color. Body cameras are fine, but nothing will change without accountability — maybe we should start there.

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