The Crusader Newspaper Group

Time for professional athletes to stop playing and get serious about giving back

By Vernon A. Williams, Gary Crusader

Colin Kaepernick quietly decides to kneel during the national anthem, stirring a nationwide buzz pro and con. Almost halfway through the regular season of the National Football League, the din has not subsided. The media and public just can’t stop talking about it and explaining why they are inspired, outraged or apathetic about the protest.

Former NBA star Kenny Smith suggests that African American players in the National Basketball Association each commit 10 percent of their huge salaries to causes that accent the positive in “the hood” – education and scholarships, mental and physical health, mentoring and youth services, jobs.

That noble concept barely evoked a bleep on the radar. It was publicized for a day or two and dropped like a bad habit. Those who saw the story have long since stopped discussing it. Most people you run into never saw the story to begin with.

So what are the takeaways from these observations?

Obviously, the more dramatic and controversial demonstration of principle captures the broadest and most sustaining attention. So much for the Kaepernick haters, who say they wish he had made his point in a less caustic manner.

In reality, you have to strike a nerve to get America to listen. And here’s the other point. Unfortunately, people are much more drawn to symbolism than substance. It’s easier, less time consuming, and far less accountable.

Let’s face it, as much as people like to talk about what’s wrong, they assume a much more allusive presence when challenged to step up and do something about it.

In his defense, Kaepernick put his money where his mouth is – donating a million dollars to community-building projects in African American neighborhoods. But those who applaud his efforts from the sidelines are content to do just that – holler “right on” but make no commitment to act.

Kenny Smith’s challenge came in the aftermath of police-involved shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota that have rocked the nation in July.

He said these events portray the societal divide that exists between poor African-Americans and the rest of the world. He opined, “We are in a societal undercurrent trying to figure out how to get pulled up. If you have social and economic power and education power, you become important.”

It’s not complicated. Smith says he will form a committee that will guide willing NBA players to specific organizations that are directly helping their respective community’s most needy individuals. He also says he will work with the NBA and major sponsors to garner similar support.

Big money sponsors of star NBA players will be asked to go dollar for dollar for the programs their endorsed players support. “We just need to know who is standing with us to socially and economically to empower people and those who aren’t,” said Smith.

The only thing wrong with Kenny Smith’s suggestion is that it doesn’t go far enough. His revolutionary plan should include not only basketball professionals but African American players in football, baseball, tennis, golf and any other high-profile athletics. To whom much is given – much is expected.

We hope Black athletes will respond enthusiastically, and with long-term commitments. The struggle is real and it’s going nowhere. But the brothers and sisters with the highest level of financial influence in sports need to lead the way in giving back to community. That could be a real game changer.

We all should watch closely to see if players, sports franchise ownership and sponsors even bother to make a serious effort to implement Kenny’s charitable concept. The general public, fan base and media should hold them accountable.

Ending on a positive note, kudos to professional sports figures, who already get it – athletes of all races listed among the most generous over the past decade. Leading the list of those whose glow of stardom beams to light a path for others are:

  • Lebron James
  • David Beckham
  • Albert Pujols
  • Eli Manning
  • Larry Fitzgerald
  • Clayton Kershaw
  • Serena Williams
  • Derek Jeter
  • Jeff Gordon
  • Tiger Woods
  • Dikembe Mutombo
  • Ndamukong Suh

It will be interesting to see how long and how fast this list grows if Kenny Smith’s leadership is followed widespread. The potential impact for economically strapped Black communities across the nation is mind-boggling.

CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference-makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: [email protected].

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