Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

Trayvon's Murder Reignited Athlete Activism, but Ahmaud Arbery and Sean Reed Show Little Has Changed

Colin Kaepernick and why he kneels, (L. down) Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, Alton Sterling, (r. down) Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Philando Castile.
Colin Kaepernick and why he kneels, (L. down) Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, Alton Sterling, (r. down) Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Philando Castile.
Illustration: Eric Barrow (Getty)

The killing of Ahmaud Arbery is Travon Martin 2.0.

Trayvon went out at half-time of the 2010 NBA All-Star game to get some Skittles and an iced tea. Ahmaud Arbery went out for a jog.

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Both were seen as threats.

Both were Black.

Both were lynched.

Instead of George Zimmerman taking policing matters into his own hands, this time it was 64-year-old Gregory McMichael and his son, Travis McMichael, 34, who executed Arbery.

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After Zimmerman spoke with police on the evening of the shooting of Martin, he wasn’t arrested, and of course, had his gun returned to him by the Sanford Police Department.

It took six weeks and mass protests across the country for Zimmerman to finally get arrested.

After over two months, amidst a protest-suppressing pandemic, the McMichaels walked free until finally being arrested on May 7.

This time things are different. This time there is a video (trigger warning), which was released on Tuesday, and it’s sickening. And a disgusted Lebron James agrees. It took just two days after the video was released for charges to be filed. 

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By Wednesday night another sickening video (trigger warning) surfaced in the Indianapolis police killing of Sean Reed. This time it was coupled with a police-incriminating Facebook Live audio where one officer remarks “that’s a closed casket homie, you got him good,” while laughing.

In no time, nearly 100 protesters took to the street last night in support of Reed. The Arbery video has already sparked protests, the first of many, COVID be damned.

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“You have a confessed killing, you have a video, and that’s the only thing left to do right now — is to make the arrest, to follow through with the charges. They had enough to make the arrest the day of, when they heard the guy was killed,” one protester told 11Alive news. “He was jogging. He had committed no crime. So it’s really unbelievable.”

“This is murder,” said S. Lee Merritt, a lawyer for Arbery’s family while echoing this protester’s sentiment.

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“As we saw with Trayvon, more people shouldn’t take the law into their own hands,” tweeted Martin’s family attorney Benjamin Crump.

If direct police murder isn’t already horrific enough, Zimmerman and the McMichaels taking the law into their own hands is far worse. In extending police power to citizens, you no longer have to wear blue of have a badge, you just have to be white.

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Or put more succinctly, “a modern day-lynching”, which is exactly what NAACP Georgia President James Woodhall, and many others have called it. Trayvon was also called “a modern-day lynching” by local leaders.

This author agrees, and if you are looking for an article with legal details, it is best to look elsewhere. For those with well-functioning eyeballs, we have seen enough.

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Crump would punctuate his tweet with the most popular online hashtags #JusticeforAhmaud, #JusticeForArbery and #RunWithMaud.

Don’t underestimate hashtags.

In 2012, Trayvon, and the emergence of Twitter is also what sparked the rebirth in athlete activism.

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The NBA led the way. Most famously, Lebron James and Dwyane Wade organized a Miami Heat team picture using the hashtag #WeAreTrayvonMartin with all the players wearing hoodies. Soon after came a solidarity stream of NBA players in hoodies, including Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire, Steve Nash, Kevin Durant and Tracy McGrady.

Illustration for article titled Trayvons Murder Reignited Athlete Activism, but Ahmaud Arbery and Sean Reed Show Little Has Changed
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The National Basketball Players Association issued a strong statement: “The NBPA also calls for the permanent resignation of Sanford Chief of Police Bill Lee and a full review of the Sanford Police Department, for dereliction of duty and racial bias in this matter and others.”

NBA Hall of Famers Isiah Thomas and Alonzo Mourning even protested in person with the Martin family.

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In 2014, sparked by protests in Ferguson and New York City after the police killing of Mike Brown and Eric Garner, respectively, another wave of athlete activism emerged with Rams players holding their hands up in “Don’t Shoot” solidarity, and NBA players Lebron James, Kevin Garnett, Derrick Rose and Kobe Bryan donning “I Can’t Breathe” shirts during pre-game warm-ups. Bryant organized his entire Lakers team to join him.

In 2016, Kaepernick would publicly speak out after the execution of Alton Sterling, famously taking a knee protesting the lack of police accountability. Colin sparked a “Kaepernick Effect,” soon followed by teammate Eric Reid and U.S. Women’s soccer star Megan Rapinoe, and a wave of similar stances from other NFL, college and high school players across sports.

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No league was more participatory than the WNBA, whose solidarity in taking a knee included the only team-wide cross-racial protest by the Indiana Fever, an achievement organized by Hall of Famer Tamika Catchings whose quiet-but-significant leadership has failed to get her the athlete-activist accolades of her male sports peers.

Illustration for article titled Trayvons Murder Reignited Athlete Activism, but Ahmaud Arbery and Sean Reed Show Little Has Changed
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Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon felt the solidarity.

“I stand with Colin,” said Fulton, “Colin spoke out about something that was a reality for so many. And he put his career on the line. I think Kaepernick and Eric Reid should be commended for standing up for people who cannot even repay them. It wasn’t about the flag. It was the fact that so many African-Americans were being shot and killed, and nobody was being held accountable.”

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Fulton, whose solidarity with Kaepernick has been echoed by so many families who lost loved ones to police violence, used that operative word again “accountable,”

More awareness has not translated to more justice. Since Trayvon and all the athletes speaking out, who exactly has been held accountable?

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Was it George Zimmerman who was basically forced by protesters into being arrested by the Sanford Police, and reportedly auctioned off his gun for $250,000 dollars?

Was it Blane Salamoni whose execution of Alton Sterling sparked Kaepernick’s ire, and who is now free to work on another police force as long as it is not in Baton Rouge?

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Was it Darren Wilson or Daniel Pantaleo who couldn’t even meet the low bar of an arrest for killing Mike Brown or Eric Garner?

Or is it Ramsey Orta, the man who filmed the police murder of Eric Garner and remains in jail while penning a harrowing letter this week on enduring “the worst kinds of racism and discrimination any legal deprivation?”

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Or was it Erica Garner, the daughter-turned-relentless-activist, who died of a “heart attack” at the age of 27, three weeks after confiding she was “struggling with stress”?

Or is it Kaepernick who still remains illegally blackballed by NFL owners for allegedly offending the military when his protest was clearly about police?

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Or was it Sean Reed whose military service in the Air Force wasn’t enough to protect him from police threat at home?

In 2020 Ahmaud Arbery is Trayvon all over again.

Eight years later, little has changed except that a white nationalist tyrant is now occupying the White House, and players with white nationalist tattoos are getting drafted into the NFL because they have the good decency not to protest police murder.

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“He was killed in the street,” said Ahmaud Arbery’s mother Wanda Cooper, “And nobody went to jail. They were able to go home; my baby was placed in a body bag.”

Cooper’s words ring familiar, a virtual cut-and-paste of a famous athlete’s protest rationale that “there are bodies in the street and people getting paid-leave and getting away with murder.”

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And people really have the caucasity to wonder why Colin Kaepernick took a knee.

NFL owners are still colluding against Colin Kaepernick. Collusion is still a crime. My sportswriting will not be complicit in criminal activity.

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