John Carlos, the world’s fastest humanitarian, has been relevant to the NFL protests since they began. I probably should have written about him sooner, but the last 2 weeks when things heated up as a result of Trumps douchegabbery I was in the middle of some serious downtime. So now, I’m sad to admit, I’ve been beaten to the punch. Sports Illustrated nabbed an actual interview.
However, that piece is short and just tremendously inadequate. As is too often the case, you’ve got to go to a venue outside of the US in order to get the fuller story of US racism. In this case, I can reasonably recommend Sam Dean’s piece in the Telegraph last year. From that piece:
Carlos was just 23 when he made his stand, and it cost him everything. With his reputation ruined, he struggled to find a job, his children were bullied at school and then, nine tortuous years later, his wife Kim took her own life. By then, their marriage had broken down, and Carlos believes her death was partly the result of the endless interference of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which had placed him under constant surveillance since his return to the United States.
“Here’s a guy with income who can support his family,” he says of himself. “And then the next day he has no income and people start to walk away. You go through a process in your mind, thinking about why. Maybe it is because they have no love for me, maybe they don’t like me. But then it dawns on you that they are walking away not because they don’t love you – they are walking away because they fear what is happening to you might happen to them.”
The article praises Carlos as a “horticulturalist” who planted seeds of hope, freedom, justice and activism who has been lucky enough to see many of those seeds sprout. Among those seedlings is a more active cadre of athletes and other anti-racist activists. Yet even before the atrocious and overt blackballing of Kaepernick, the Telegraph had clearly identified major barriers to athletes speaking out (though they focussed on the then-current Rio Olympics):
“The fight is going to go on.”
The question, then, is whether it will be fought by athletes. In this money-spinning era of agents, sponsorship deals and endless proclamations of the importance of “brand values”, it seems the weight of the establishment is heavier than ever.
… Such is the primacy of sports brands in the United States that an athlete’s kit supplier is listed alongside their name on results sheets, and is often read out when they are announced to the crowd before competition.
I had no idea that the Olympics did anything like announcing, “The Nike-wearing Florence Griffith Joyner!” Nonetheless, there are activist-athletes. The Telegraph pointed out in that piece Serena Williams and basketball player Carmelo Anthony. And now we have not merely Kaepernick, but dozens of NFL players, including some at the top of their positions.
Trump is a jerk, a mendacious, malicious, bullying jerk. But in this case there are finally enough NFL players protesting, with enough non-protestors linking arms with the protestors, that maybe the wildly successful Kaepernick will not have to face the same fall and the same later tragedies as the wildly successful young Carlos. And that unity among players has everything to do with having these decisions forced upon them by Trump’s bullying. Many choose not to protest police violence and other racial injustices, but nearly all of those now choose to stand with those who do. Whatever happens to Kaepernick for his 21st Century Mexico City moment, it’s clear that there are now too many players participating in efforts to end racism for the NFL to blackball them all.
*1: Though I haven’t written anything focussed on Carlos, I don’t think, I know I’ve mentioned him in a post before. I’ll have to look up the context.