Trayvon Martin and the Miami Heat

Author’s Note: This column appears in the March 29 issue of The Villanovan.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a column that documented, among other things, why I dislike the Miami Heat. The superstar-laden South Beach squad has been maligned by many casual NBA fans over the last two seasons, as much for their off the court appearances as their on the court lack of success.

Sometimes however, people – or sports teams – can surprise you. Now you won’t see me putting on a Chris Bosh jersey anytime soon, but the Heat are definitely off my ‘Cheer against them in any scenario short of them playing the the Soviet Hockey Team list.’

For those who haven’t been following the recent developments in Florida, on February 26, 17-year old African-American teenager Trayvon Martin was stopped by someone on the neighborhood watch as he carried a bag of Skittles and a bottle of iced tea to a relative’s house. Details are fuzzy regarding what happened next, but these are the facts: Martin was unarmed, and ended up dead by the neighbor’s bullet. Claiming self defense, the shooter, George Zimmerman, has escaped any sort of legal repercussions, and the matter is currently under investigation by both the local police, and the national media.

While the story had been rolling through the news cycle relatively quickly, a comment from Fox News pundit Geraldo Rivera last week set off a new controversy. Appearing on both the television and online components of Fox News, Rivera wrote that, “His hoodie killed Trayvon Martin as surely as George Zimmerman did.” Say what you will about Rivera’s quote, but I personally find it foolish and short-sighted. Martin may have been walking with his hood up – in the rain, mind you – but the argument that his choice of outfit was equally as responsible for his death as a trigger-happy neighborhood watch member is flimsy at best and ignorant at worst.
As it turns out, I am not the only one who has this viewpoint. Heat stars Lebron James and Dwyane Wade have made statements condemning the violent act, and recently Wade tweeted a picture of him and his Heat teammates wearing matching black hoodies, standing together for Martin. “We just couldn’t imagine (anyone’s) son leaving to go play basketball or go to the drugstore or go anywhere and he doesn’t return,” James said.

Kudos to Wade, James, and the rest of the Heat for making a statement about an issue that has swept the nation over the last month. In this world of 24 hour news cycles and instant-gratification-tweeting, it seems less and less common for athletes to make public statements, political or not, that don’t necessarily reflect their particular sport.

Two weeks ago, soccer player Fabrice Muamba fell to the ground in the middle of a game after falling into cardiac arrest. Without a heartbeat for 78 minutes, Muamba was finally revived and is currently recovering in England. The following weekend, former teammate Gary Cahill celebrated a goal by revealing a shirt under his jersey with the phrase ‘Pray 4 Muamba’ written on it.

Why is that athletes hesitate to make statements like this? Years ago, superstar athletes like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Billie Jean King made no apologies for what they stood for, whether it was popularly supported or not. Stars like Muhammad Ali and Jim Brown had no problem dissenting with the American people or American government.

I’m not saying that every athlete with a Twitter handle needs to weigh in on the conflict in Syria, but how come more than a couple haven’t? It appears to me that in this world of image control and public perception, even though we may have more access than ever to an athlete or celebrity’s fleeting thoughts, we have less insight into what they truly stand for.
Consider this: do you follow any athletes, professional or collegiate, on Twitter? Check their bios, and note how many reference God or faith in some way. Then check out how many of their tweets support that belief, or any other.

Athletes, like all celebrities, have a unique opportunity as public figures to further the discussion on topics other than who won last night’s game or who is the NBA’s best point guard. Soccer star Didier Drogba, the captain of the Ivory Coast National team, has played a key role in the mediation of the nation’s internal conflict. Brown’s reputation as an activist precedes him. King advocated for gender equality both on and off the court. Where have the activists gone?

Honestly, I have no idea. Maybe Twitter and the 140-character limit is the problem. Maybe it’s the concern that any words might get twisted as soon as they are posted or spoken. Maybe it’s just apathy on the part of the athletes.

Rare is the time when I’m proud of the Miami Heat. Embrace it Lebron and co., because come playoff time, I’ll be cheering against you every chance I get.


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