‘The next generation has checked in’

‘The next generation has checked in’
October 26
07:00 2017

Last week, Wake Forest University held a “Rethinking Community Conference,” in which the university brought together thought leaders across the ideological spectrum to explore what it means to live in a society that is more diverse, polarized, global and virtual than ever before.
Journalist, politicians, scholars and public intellectuals discussed some of the most critical issues influencing academic, political and civil spheres as part of Wake Forest’s yearlong focus on “Rethinking Community.”

In addition to sports and community, the conference featured timely discussions about free speech and safe places, the fight to end or defend DACA and a conversation about free press and fake news.

The highlight of the conference was a panel held on Friday, Oct. 20, which included professional athletes, sports writers, and activists to rethink the role of sports in community and address related tensions head on.

The panelists were Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, a former NBA player who sat during the national anthem at the height of his career; John Carlos, U.S.A. Track and Field Hall of Famer and 1968 Olympic medalist whose black power salute on the podium gained him worldwide attention; and Ibtihaj Muhammad, World Champion and Olympic medalist for the U.S. Fencing team, best known as the first American athlete to compete in the Olympics wearing a hijab.

Dave Zirin, author, podcaster and political sports writer for The Nation; and Melissa Harris-Perry, faculty director of the Pro Humanitate Institute, were the moderators during the discussion.
Zirin jumped right into the pressing question that seemed to be on everyone’s mind by asking the panelists what they thought of the new generation of athletes taking up the fight against oppression and using the anthem to raise awareness of racial inequality.

“It’s very refreshing to see these young individuals make the statements that they are making today,” said Carlos.  “Roughly 49 years ago, people asked me after we did the demonstration in Mexico City, ‘What do you think you’re doing?, What do you think you accomplished?, Do you know what is going to happen to you?’ Well, I said, you seem like you think I am a bad guy.  Well, I said, if you think that I am bad, wait until the next generation, and here we are, 49 years later and the next generation has checked in.

“So when I see these guys, it kind of makes me think to myself that at that particular time that I was a gardener and I planted seeds, nurtured the earth and watered it, and now this beautiful tree is there and all of these individuals I see not just in athletics are the fruits of my labor,” Carlos continued.  “So I feel refreshed and invigorated that the fight is going to warm up because we are going to squash this thing called prejudice and violence the best we can.”
Abdul-Rauf’s anthem protest in the mid-’90s was unheard of at the time.  His stance was frowned upon by not only the league but also some of the players as well, he stated.  For him to see the players in the NFL take up the mantle and use the anthem as a platform to protest was great, he said.

“I think it is definitely refreshing and unprecedented what we are seeing now from athletes across all sections of sports,” said Abdul-Rauf.  “To me, it represents the concept that they know this is bigger than them.”
Muhammad said she was initially encouraged not to use her platform as an athlete to voice her opinion on social issues.  She was then told by her new agent “if you don’t use your voice to speak up for people who look like you, whose going to do it?”

She says that was the push she needed and has done so ever since then.  She also felt athletes like herself and others would not have this platform for protest if it weren’t for athletes such as Carlos and Abdul-Rauf.

“Having athletes lead the way and show us what it’s like to not only jeopardize your own safety and your own livelihood and that of your family but even your own financial wealth for the benefit of others is what life is all about,” said Muhammad.  “It’s not about money it’s about leaving the world a better place than what it is now.”

During the two-hourlong discussion, the panelists touched on other pressing issues, such as their social impact of using sports as a platform to bring awareness to issues, the current president’s opposition to the anthem protest in the NFL and how the NCAA uses athletes for profit.

Carlos told the audience that just because they do not have the platform the panelists enjoy, there are still ways of fighting injustice.  He says you will be surprised who will follow you once you stand up for injustice when you face it head on.

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Timothy Ramsey

Timothy Ramsey

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