Monday, May 18, 2009

Steely Moments in Civil Disobedience

Long have I been a fan of civil disobedience as showcased in the arena of sports.

Some argue for a disconnect between our entertainment and politics...... this is an opinion I wholeheartedly respect. It is akin to the notion that talking religion or politics is poor form whilst throwing back case after case of Pabst Blue Ribbon at the local watering hole. While it is the spectator's opinion that I respect it is the sportsman's courage and representation of civic duty that I truly admire.

It goes back, for me, to that iconic image from Mexico City in 1968. Seeing Tommy Smith and John Carlos, with black sheathed fists thrust skywards, draped in the symbols of 400 years of oppression, was an historic human that also angered a country in the throws of change:

Tommy Smith recounted, "If I win, I am American, not a black American. But if I did something bad, then they would say I am a Negro. We are black and we are proud of being black. Black America will understand what we did tonight."

Whether or not you agreed with the sentiments conveyed by Smith and Carlos you had to admire the expression by a free people, despite it taking place on an Olympic stage that is designed to be apolitical.

A long line of athletes involved with politics would continue to emerge on a national stage. From Rosey Grier wrestling Sirhan Sirhan to the ground after the RFK assassination to Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf (aka Chris Jackson) turning his back during the National Anthem before games in the Association. It would be easy to call the former heroic and the latter reprehensible but it is the willingness to involve oneself in the debate or to simply create the debate by standing up for a belief that is of greatest import (although it is worth noting that to make millions in the NBA while admonishing the country that provides the same opportunity is hypocrisy in it's worse form).

It is , no doubt, our recent history that has laid the groundwork for the most politically inspired. The inspired ranks have now swelled to include Pittsburgh Steeler James Harrison who recently refused to accept the invitation by President Obama to attend the annual Super Bowl Champions' visit. I would like to think that the Defensive Player of the Year sat wistfully in front of the television during the 2006 Winter Olympiad and found his inspiration from Gold Medalist Speed Skater Joey Cheek who donated his medal bonus to an international humanitarian organization. This organization, called Right to Play, had been established by another gold medal winning speed skater named Johann Olav Koss. Such selfless acts by men who's political associations could serve to tarnish reputations long in the making.

see labels...says it all
It is from the specter of these great athletes that Harrison manifests himself. He is not protesting President Obama's ill advised appointment of a poorly vetted Tom Daschle for Health and Human Services. Nor is he chiding #44 for appearances on Al Jazeera television to discuss Middle East relations. These are not Harrison's issues......his White House ire has been stirred by something much deeper. In Harrison's own words:

"This is how I feel -- if you want to see the Pittsburgh Steelers, invite us when we don't win the Super Bowl. As far as I'm concerned, he [Obama] would've invited Arizona if they had won," said Harrison.

Well said James.

The audacity of Obama with his flimsy 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue invites! When lines are drawn in the sand Americans must, to paraphrase Eldridge Cleaver, "choose whether they will be a part of the problem or the solution." The scope of this issue is too grand to find your self on the wrong side. Thank you, Mr. Harrison for continuing the tradition of athletes putting themselves on the line and taking up courageous positions on some of the most harrowing causes of our time, and arguing them so succinctly.

We're with the Defensive Player Of the Year.

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