Greg Cote

In the age of athlete activism, please don’t shut up — speak up

Heat veteran Dwyane Wade had a special pair of sneakers with Joaquin Oliver’s name and the school logo of Marjory Stoneman Douglas made. Wade presented them to Oliver’s parents after Saturday night’s game against the Detroit Pistons on March 3, 2018.
Heat veteran Dwyane Wade had a special pair of sneakers with Joaquin Oliver’s name and the school logo of Marjory Stoneman Douglas made. Wade presented them to Oliver’s parents after Saturday night’s game against the Detroit Pistons on March 3, 2018.

Kobe Bryant had written an ode to the sport he loves in announcing his retirement from the NBA in 2015, and that poem became the animated short film, Dear Basketball, that won an on Oscar Sunday night. Bryant began his acceptance remarks by saying, “Basketball players are really supposed to shut up and dribble, but I’m glad we do a little bit more than that.”

The reference of course was to Fox News host Laura Ingraham’s recent rebuke of LeBron James for speaking out on social issues such as racial inequality — for daring to have and express a human dimension beyond and bigger than that rectangular hardwood court.

Bryant’s quick jab that drew an appreciative chuckle from the Academy Awards crowd, it was perfect for the times, because it reflected not where we are headed as a society, but where we are now.

Everywhere you look, in and out of sports, people are not shutting up. They are rising up. We are in the midst of a new age of social activism, and it is a glorious, inspiring thing to see.

We are getting a refresher course in democracy and freedom in our own back yard in the wake of last month’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High tragedy in which 17 were killed at the Parkland school. Surviving students have taken it upon themselves to start the #NeverAgain movement that now resonates with students across the country and beyond. There will be a March For Our Lives in Washington on March 24. Through their tears the Douglas students have founded a movement determined to take on the gun lobby and see reform that would include a ban on assault rifles like the one that changed so many lives on Valentine’s Day.

Kobe Bryant, left, and Glen Keane accept the award for best animated short for "Dear Basketball" at the Oscars on Sun., March 4, 2018, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. BB-8 appears on right. Chris Pizzello Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

The gun lobby is so, so powerful. Through “donations” it buys the influence of countless politicians. Yet I would not bet against these Douglas kids finally being the leaders for actual change.

Sports and athletes have stood up in the wake of the Parkland massacre. The Heat’s Dwyane Wade wore sneakers with the name of one of the victims, who was buried wearing a No. 3 Wade jersey.

The famed Barcelona soccer club of Lionel Messi has reached out to a recovering Parkland survivor who took five bullets trying to save others.

The Florida Panthers on Monday hosted an event for the Stoneman Douglas club hockey team.

Sports has been loud in its call for gun control, for sanity, since Feb. 14.

We have seen NFL athletes emerge to the forefront of the social injustice that spawned the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of unjustified police shootings of unarmed black men. What Colin Kaepernick started isn’t stopping. The sight of players taking a knee during the national anthem is extremely polarizing, but the fight for change is never harmonious. From the Boston Tea Party to the Civil Rights Movement to Vietnam War protests, civil disobedience always finds those on the other side, protesting the protesters.

Social injustice is not a sports story any more than gun violence is, except that the line keeps getting blurred as more and more athletes feel their conscience and give it voice.

Florida Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo (1) defends the net against the Washington Capitals during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Thurs., Feb. 22, 2018, in Sunrise, Fla. The Panthers defeated the Capitals 3-2. Joel Auerbach AP

It was the rising, collective voice of some of our finest Olympians, U.S. women’s gymnasts, that finally ended the shameful scourge of national team doctor Larry Nassar, recently convicted of years of sexual abuse of young women under the guise of medical care. Gold medalist Aly Raisman was among the victims speaking out, and now is suing both USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic Committee for the lack of oversight and action. (As an aside, it was an Indianapolis Star report in 2016 that publicly named Nassar, emboldening victims to come forward — another reminder why newspapers and great journalism are more important than ever).

The same collective voice that brought down Nassar also is flexing its power in Hollywood as dozens of actresses including Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek and Gwyneth Paltrow have come forward publicly to accuse producer Harvey Weinstein of years of abuse. Many other once-powerful men have since fallen, shamed by an abuse once hidden but now under a searing spotlight. “Me Too” and “Time’s Up” are the catchphrases here, but it is the rising up and speaking out that gives the hashtags their muscle. Social media is a platform to grow a cause, but it takes courage and outrage to start one.

It takes a growing army of folks who refuse to shut up and dribble.

To LeBron James, to Gwyneth Paltrow, to Aly Raisman, to the Douglas students turning pain into power who will march in Washington, please do not shut up.

Speak louder and louder.

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