'We Need Your Voices' — Black Athletes Question If White Players Give a Damn About Their Lives

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Stephen Jackson, Shannon Sharpe, Jalen Rose and other black athletes are calling on their white brothers to stand with them.
Stephen Jackson, Shannon Sharpe, Jalen Rose and other black athletes are calling on their white brothers to stand with them.
Illustration: Eric Barrow/Deadspin

“To my white brothers, I love you. Every race here, I love you,” Stephen Jackson told a Minneapolis crowd. “But it comes to a point now where if you love me and you’re not standing on the side of me, then your love don’t mean shit.”

No athlete has been more deeply and personally impacted by the death of George Floyd than Stephen Jackson, who had a 25-year friendship with him, the man who was murdered by… well, you know the damn story.

Jackson is far from alone as he was joined by fellow retired NBA player Jalen Rose, the NHL’s Evander Kane, and NFL voices Shannon Sharpe, Emmanuel Acho, Brian Flores, and Joe Burrow (who is white) in calling out white silence. Since last week, Sharpe has been kicking white hypocrisy’s ass and naming names:

“Tom Brady and Drew Brees, we need your voices,” Sharpe added. “Because you talk about ‘that’s my brother.’ OK, well your brother’s brother is suffering, I wanna hear you. Come on, you say we’re brothers… ‘we family!’ OK, I need that same energy right now. I need that energy.”


San Jose Sharks forward Evander Kane agrees while adding the NHL’s biggest name to the list.

“It’s time for guys like Tom Brady and Sidney Crosby and those types of figures to speak up about what is right and, clearly in this case, what is unbelievably wrong,” said Kane, Friday on ESPN’s First Take. “That’s the only way we’re going to actually create that unified anger to create that necessary change, especially when you talk about systematic racism.”


Racially “unified anger” never really materialized for Colin Kaepernick’s famous 2016 protest against police terror, and Jalen Rose agrees that the voices of black athletes are not enough.

“We need people who aren’t black, we need people who aren’t brown,” says Rose. “When you know these things are happening in your society to have a voice, a legitimate one, lock and step with us, protest with us, post with us.”


Strong statements of solidarity by a few current and future white NFL quarterbacks like Carson Wentz, Joe Burrow, and Trevor Lawrence have been exceptions, and Burrow, too, requested greater white enlistment. “The black community needs our help,” tweeted Burrow. “They have been unheard for far too long. Open your ears, listen, and speak. This isn’t politics. This is human rights.”

Lawrence asked for white introspection: “I’m siding with my brothers that deal, and continuously deal, with things I will never experience. The injustice is clear… and so is the hate. It can no longer be explained away. If you’re still ‘explaining’ it — check your heart and ask why.”


Since Kap kneeled, no white athlete has posted up as consistently as Chris Long, who expressed praise for Wentz, and agreement with Sharpe that “we need the big-name [white] quarterbacks.”

But silence is not limited to white athletes, and Deadspin’s Rob Parker has noted the vast silence of many high-profile Black QBs. As a white writer, black athlete silence is not my lane of concern, and an internal discussion within the black community that should not include me. How can I tell black athletes to clean their homes when 99 percent of white NFL players live in filth?


As a white writer, something feels unjust about putting the burden of undoing white racism on black athletes, especially black QBs who already have to jump 10 racist hurdles just to land that starting job. Let Brady and Brees jump a damn racial hurdle.

Shannon Sharpe says: “Why should I come up with a solution that you caused. You caused it. You figure it out.” Cleaning up our own racist mess is the least white people can do.


The White QB Reward-Risk Equation is different. If Brady, Brees or Aaron Rodgers speak up, they might get a few bad tweets or lose one endorsement. The punishment for black QBs is a shortened or ended career. If Cam Newton speaks up now, he may never see an NFL field again. Just ask Colin.

White star athletes don’t just have greater influence, they risk lesser punishment, too. So for me, the most sad and pathetic NFL occurrence over the last four years were star white athletes not using those privileges. NFL owners basically took back $100 million out of Kaepernick’s bank account, and his white colleagues just watched it happen.


Beyond Chris Long, nearly every NFL player who expressed symbolic or vocal solidarity with Kap, was black. And guess what, Kap is still blackballed by NFL owners. And so might be Kap’s biggest partner-in-protest Eric Reid, although it may be too early in the NFL free agency to tell.

The hypocritical reaction to Kaepernick then, and George Floyd now, was not lost on Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores.


“I vividly remember the Colin Kaepernick conversations,” wrote Flores. “‘Don’t ever disrespect the flag’ was the phrase that I heard over and over again. This idea that players were kneeling in support of social justice was something some people couldn’t wrap their head around. The outrage that I saw in the media and the anger I felt in some of my own private conversations caused me to sever a few long-standing friendships.”

It seems Flores’ severed friendships were validated by white silence after the murder of George Floyd. Flores continued:

“I haven’t seen the same OUTRAGE from people of influence when the conversation turns to Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and most recently George Floyd. Many people who broadcast their opinions on kneeling or on the hiring of minorities don’t seem to have an opinion on the recent murders of these young black men and women. I think many of them QUIETLY say that watching George Floyd plead for help is one of the more horrible things they have seen, but it’s said amongst themselves where no one can hear. Broadcasting THAT opinion clearly is not important enough.”


Flores is only a second-year coach, and one of only three black coaches in the NFL, and not a single white NFL coach has used their privilege to address George Floyd.

On the “Double Coverage” podcast Sunday night, Patriots player Devin McCourty connected those dots:

“We need more black coaches, we need more black GMs, we need more people in that position. So, to see him be outspoken — and knowing him personally, he’s always been like that — to me was great to see.”


Translation: If you want more outspokenness from NFL leadership, it would help that an NFL owner/GM/coach barbeque wouldn’t resemble a Klan rally.

It may not happen anytime soon given the sorry state of NFL leadership. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and 49ers owner Jed York both issued pathetic public statements on George Floyd’s murder that were condemned by players Reid, Kenny Stills, and Peyton Thompson who called it “complete trash.” Stills succinctly told Goodell to: “Save the Bullshit”.


Then there is the matter of the attitude of white sports fans who often impact owner behavior.

Dear White Brothers and Sisters… begins the tweet and video of former Eagles linebacker Emmanuel Acho:

“We need ya’lls help… The energy was there, my sports fans, when Myles Garrett swung his helmet at Mason Rudolph and nearly killed a man. The tweets were there. The energy was there. But where’s that same energy when a police officer actually did kill a man in #GeorgeFloyd. Where is that same energy?”


It’s a good question. And even after the last few days, it’s hard to answer.

On one hand, we have seen some incredible collective white energy the last few days as masses of protesters “took a knee” in various cities across the country. We just don’t know if these are the same groups of white people who wanted to ban Myles Garrett to Siberia for life. Either way, Jalen Rose is tired of white people who don’t see black people beyond the box score:

“I wish America loved black people as much as they love black culture,” Rose said. “We’re not here designed only to entertain. We’re actually living and breathing human beings. This is not new. These are murders. These are lynchings. These things have caused pain in our society, in our community, for hundreds of years. We’ve been screaming out for your assistance.


Imagine “screaming out” to be recognized as “human beings” — by your own teammates.

“We need so many more athletes that don’t look like me speaking out about this having the same amount of outrage that I have inside, and using that to voice their opinion and their frustration,” reiterated Evander Kane. “That’s the only way it’s going to change. We’ve been outraged for hundreds of years and nothing has changed.”


“Same amount of outrage.” — Imagine that level of solidarity.

“Tom [Brady], I need your voice now,” reiterates Shannon Sharpe, “J.J. [Watt], I need your voice. Aaron Rodgers, I need your voice. I need them to get on board like Chris Long has gotten on board. We need big voices. We need big corporate America voices to say enough is enough.”


Not just any voices. “Big corporate voices.”

“It’s not rocket science… You can’t love me and not love my people, it don’t work like that” declared Jackson at the City Hall in Minneapolis. “I need everybody to stand with us. If you not with us, you against us. There’s no more pacifying, no more straddling the fence. You gotta play our side or you on the other side”.


So Tom, Drew, and Aaron, what side are you on?

George Floyd? Or Derek Chauvin?

Looking for ways to advocate for black lives? Check out this list of resources by our sister site Lifehacker for ways to get involved.