Given the lack of social activism by prominent black sports figures for so long, it was refreshing that Miami Heat A-listers Dwyane Wade and LeBron James led the team’s efforts last week to speak out about the case of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old Florida high school student who was shot and killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer in February. George Zimmerman, the self-appointed neighborhood watch captain, said Trayvon, who was wearing a hooded sweatshirt, looked suspicious. Zimmerman has claimed self-defense and has not been arrested.
Amid allegations of racism, the tragedy has ignited national protests and prompted simultaneous county, state and federal investigations, as well as inspired Wade and James to engage in the discussion. They organized the team-wide response.
Atop his social media pages, Wade posted a photo of himself in a hoodie and James tweeted a photo of 13 Heat players wearing black hoodies with their heads bowed in a tribute to Martin, who had only a pack of Skittles and a bottle of iced tea in his possession.
Wade and James, among today’s biggest sports superstars, should be applauded for taking active roles in delivering a positive message of racial unity and challenging the disturbing stereotypes that plague this nation despite its continued progress in race relations. The Heat’s co-leading men saw something they judged to be wrong in society and shined a spotlight on it. They displayed courage.
In the black community, sports stars have historically held high standing because athletics provided the first opportunity to achieve racial equality.
During the 1960s, future Hall of Famers were out front in the civil-rights movement. Whether it was Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, Bill Russell, Oscar Robertson or others, the message was unified and clear: African American athletes had a responsibility to help fight the racial injustices of the time.
For those men of courage and vision, it wasn’t only about lending their names to causes. They actually rolled up their sleeves and worked, organizing programs to help improve lives. Facing pressure from team ownership to remain silent, they spoke out.
Ali was stripped of his title for being a conscientious objector to the Vietnam war. For more than three years, he could not obtain a license to box in any state.