“The price one pays for pursuing any profession or calling is an intimate knowledge of its ugly side,” wrote the late James Baldwin.
I was at the hospital working on finishing a few tasks when I saw “48-16,” at the bottom of the screen. This was the final score of my Washington Football team losing to the New York Giants. A once promising season, now unraveling, with two quarterbacks falling to injury. A clear need for a shock to the system that could have been delivered in the form of Colin Kaepernick. The story has been repeated over and over this year by teams who have shied away from the risk and rejected his talent.
In athletics we long for a concrete setting of black and white, your team against my team, someone wins, and someone loses. A realization that the only dialogue society cares to hear is the score at the end of the game.
As a young African-American boy growing up in Washington D.C., I was nine years old when I pleaded with my parents for season tickets to see my favorite football team. The same team whose identity was intertwined with the first African-American Superbowl winning quarterback and players like—Darryl Green, Champ Bailey, Michael Westbrook—whom I identified as African-American men whose persistent efforts and determined attitudes had led them to the peak of success. It was an ignorant bliss that most young African-American boys experience, where becoming a professional athlete is the ultimate goal.
Times have changed.
My team and others choose losing on the field over taking a stand off of it. An athlete in the prime of his career, risking all that he had worked for to raise awareness on topics intrinsic to his existence, should not be relegated to the sidelines. Sadly—whether or not kneeling is appropriate during the Star-Spangled Banner has obscured the original issues surrounding police violence and brutality towards African-American males.
The current situation in Washington, on and off the field, reverberates within my soul. As a former student-athlete and current resident African-American physician it’s difficult to see the team I, and so many other young black men, grew up loving refuse to acknowledge societal factors directing their actions. In athletics, especially football, the reverberating motto is always “next man up,” unless that man is Colin Kaepernick.
He has started a wave of professional athletes who have recently risen to show that each of us, in small or large ways, have the power to shape this world to be a safer and better place. A place where hard work and true character meets no other barriers to success, but unfortunately some barriers remain.
This is the message being sent to young African-American boys through a continued saga. “If you’re athletically talented and black your power may only be used within the boundary lines of an athletic field.
Your talent on the field is only as valuable as your silence off of it.