This week in the Boston.com Book Club we delve into part two of Howard Bryant’s essay collection, “Full Dissidence: Notes from an Uneven Playing Field,” which unpacks the deep-seated racial inequity that manifests in professional sports. Where part one of the book introduces readers to the realities Black athletes face on the field—detailing the industry’s inherent ties with the police and military as well as the plight of Colin Kaepernick—part two focuses on the erasure of Black identity and the shortcomings of integration.
In the section’s opening essay, “The Lost Tribe of Integration,” the author explains that the idea of a fully integrated society, as idealistic as it may sound, is impossible to achieve. Bryant looks at this issue through the lens of school systems—drawing on his own experience as a young boy when his family moved from Dorchester to Plymouth to detail how integration is essentially assimilation, leaving many Black families in predominantly white areas in limbo between “never white, but culturally perhaps not black.”
Bryant then pivots into how erasure of Black identity is a condition of success in the following essay, “The Worst Things in the World,” using the examples of rising star tennis player Madison Keys choosing not to self-identify with either side of her mixed race background — Keys has a white mother and a Black father — and champion golfer Tiger Woods who is “Cablinasian,” a term he coined to seemingly eschew being labeled as Black. “When writers and other black professionals distance themselves from black advocacy as a prerequisite or inevitability of their success, they have chosen amputation,” Bryant writes. “The message to every black child who wants to become them is that they are wrong to aspire to proudly claim the black voice, to take the people with them.”
Tying together the two preceding essays, the section concludes with an essay outlining how redemption (à la Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding through the 2017 film, “I, Tonya”) is only available for white people. America empathized with Harding after learning of her rough upbringing as a child of divorced parents in Oregon, tapping into her humanity, while Colin Kaepernick was “viewed only through the cold lens of business, which is the only way black athletes have historically been seen.”
When games were postponed or canceled in response to the recent shooting of Jacob Blake by a police officer in Kenosha, Wisc., athletes acted against the sports world’s expectations. As Bryant writes, they willfully entered “the dissident space.” Players such as Patriots cornerback Jason McCourty and Celtics forward Jayson Tatum chose not to practice erasure and instead used their platform to advocate for Black lives and draw attention to racial injustice and police brutality. So we asked Boston.com readers if they agreed with McCourty, Tatum, and other athletes and sports leagues in protest over the shooting.
Based on 1,741 respondents, 62% disagreed with how athletes and sports leagues reacted. Many shared their beliefs that sports and politics shouldn’t mix and athletes should “stick to their jobs,” one reader wrote. The remaining 38% of voters supported the players using their platform to speak out. Andy from Roslindale said, “We need to have this conversation.”
Here are some opinions readers shared on the topic:
Responses have been lightly edited for grammar and clarity.
“Stick to their jobs—their politics should be personal. As a teacher, my students many times ask me whom I am for or against. I told them every time that my job was to give them a foundation so that they could make informed decisions in life.” –Anonymous
“Respectfully, you are paid millions of dollars to play a game, largely for entertainment purposes. Cities rally behind teams. When you make a political statement, you upset 50% of the people on any given issue. People watch sports to get away from everyday life, work, politics, etc. Not to get more of it.” –Rich, Tewksbury
“Sports and entertainment should be devoid of politics. The working people of this country just want sports and entertainment to be a place where they can escape from the trying things that are going on in their lives.” –DJ, Braintree
Unless they are going to actually do something for these people then it’s all posing. All they do is complain about the police but I have seen no action.” –Ed, Nashua, New Hampshire
“Share their views when they are off work, on their day off or after their games. Put their money where their mouth is. Go out and talk with the protesters. Call the loved ones of those suffering. WE don’t want to hear their opinion. We pay for sports TV to watch them.” –Anonymous
“I watch sports as entertainment. It is a diversion from the stresses of daily life. I prefer to keep politics and other social causes separate. If they don’t want to play, I get that, but that is their job, and we all have jobs to do… I wish them well with their cause. We are all human beings and should be treated equally. I just do not like the way they are going about it.” –Jim, Wilmington
“Their celebrity could garner change in other ways. Contributing their salaries for the missed games could have been used to enhance schools, purchase laptops for remote learners who don’t have them, paying past rent owed due to the loss of jobs as a result of coronavirus, mentoring some of these young at-risk youth.” –Anonymous
“I believe we all have an obligation to perform the jobs for which we are paid to do. There are many ways one can protest injustice outside of work.” –Rick, Stoneham
“A lot of owners and fans are white and influential, and the athletes entertaining them are Black. So yes, I support athletes and sports leagues protesting. Asking them to be quiet and just play for ‘us’ has a bad gladiatorial feel to it.” –Anonymous
“This is a critical time in our nation and these athletes are using their platform for something more important than professional sports. Kudos to each and every athlete taking a stand!” –Melissa, Milford
“Since the majority of athletes in certain sports are people of color, I think it’s important for them to use their platform to call for justice and equality. If people enjoy watching them play games, then they need to support those communities.” –Anonymous
“Sometimes we need some tough love, sometimes we have to lose something like entertainment so we can truly take a look at a simmering issue that has been swept under the rug… We need to have this conversation and truly look at ourselves and all of us. If this is what it takes to have this conversation and hold people accountable, so be it.” –Andy, Roslindale
“For so many players, these issues are not abstract, but rather something they’ve lived with since birth and they are exhausted, mourning, and done tolerating the endless cycle of injustice. And, like anyone else, they’re ready to use their power to effect the change they need to see in the world.” –Bree, Haverhill
“The fact that this survey is asking the question shows that people are noticing the message, whether they agree or not. Athletes should be commended for being socially aware and interested in something greater than their own economic security (which is the case for many of us), especially when they know that many critics disagree and think they should be silent and just play.” –Anonymous
“The work the NBA has done has led to many important and challenging conversations with our 11-year-old son. The NBA and others, using the platform they have to share their voices and raise them against injustice, is powerful and inspiring. Just because they are athletes, does not mean that they aren’t citizens concerned about what is happening in the world around them. If what they are doing inspires conversation and action to address inequities, then more power to them. We stand with them.” –Cate, West Bridgewater
“You’re damn right I do. They are demonstrating the power of unified action in the face of oppression.” –Joe, Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
RSVP now for our live discussion with “Full Dissidence” author Howard Bryant on Tue., September 15.
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