Minnesota Vikings legend and Hall of Fame defensive end Carl Eller learned to stand for the national anthem as a member of the National Guard.

But he doesn’t begrudge athletes like Colin Kaepernick who take a knee as a way to protest the freedom references in the anthem to bring light to injustices against African Americans.

Minnesota Lynx forward Rebekkah Brunson and her WNBA teammates wore shirts calling for justice and accountability on T-shir after Philando Castile was gunned down in Columbia Heights after being stopped for a broken tail light.

She and her teammates used their platform as athletes to highlight the need for more justice.

Both professional athletes spoke Tuesday night at a program on Sports and Race, sponsored by the Twin Cities Black Journalists, the Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists and the University of Minnesota Hubbard School of Journalism.

Eller often took a more conservative approach than the other panelists. Eller argued athletes should show respect to the NFL and the business they are in and criticized Kaepernick for being an advocate despite not voting. Athletes of any race shouldn’t feel obligated to protest and shouldn’t be judged if they don’t, whatever their race, Eller said.

President Donald Trump didn’t advance the dialogue much when he said athletes who take a knee should be fired.

As an increasing number of NFL players took a knee or, like the Vikings, locked arms and stood as a show of unity — the message being the white players believed in the cause of the black players — the NFL took notice.

The league eventually met with representatives of the players. The owners wanted to avoid hurting their “brand” by having players act in a way that was seen as disrespectful and the players wanted to use their voices to oppose what they see as injustices.

The NFL eventually donated $89 million, to be divided equally by all 32 teams, to go to causes to improve race relations in communities. Some called it a “payoff” by the owners to maintain good public relations. Others, Eller included, called it money that would likely help these communities.

But the effort was worthwhile in that players and owners were talking about the issue in ways never dreamed of before.

Race and discrimination in America have been “discussed” for decades, but now that the issue has invaded big-time sports the discussion has become more significant and deeper. It’s no longer relegated to the halls of academia. It’s now a discussion in the legion halls. It’s now a discussion in the gym classes and cafeterias of our schools.

If Colin Kaepernick did that, we should all be grateful.

The Super Bowl is in our backyard. Will someone be willing to raise the “Super Conversation?”

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