Martin Luther King, Jr. Remembered

Monday, January 18th is the federal Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, and all across the world, human beings honor a great man in a variety of powerful ways.  The sports and entertainment world is no different, but is internationally visible, therefore carrying the message of love, tolerance and the opposition of human rights to a global scale.

Celebrants fill churches, stadiums, arenas, volunteer locations, community gatherings and parades the world over to honor the lasting legacy of King’s as leader of nonviolent protest and demonstrations that led to the historic 1964 Civil Rights Act.  An act which enforced a federal law giving black citizens the right to vote, attend integrated schools, and visit any public space they liked.  No more “Whites Only” and “Coloreds Only” signs enforced by the Southern Jim Crow laws that segregated blacks and whites everywhere.

Martin Luther King’s nonviolent acts of protest were inspired by his hero, Gandhi, who waged against British Imperialist oppression with nonviolent protests that eventually removed the British oppression of the Indian people.

On the Field and the Court: Athletes
Bring Global Attention to Inequality

The changes King set in motion, as well as his powerful nonviolent resistance to civil rights discrimination, continue. One such supremely visible and therefore powerfully effective means of nonviolent protest has been on football, baseball, and soccer fields, on basketball courts, in hockey stadiums and in the international arena of the world Olympics.

I could write volumes on black athletes and their struggle and eventual domination in every U.S. sport (okay, domination may not be determined in history as FACT, but it sure looks like domination to any fan) as it relates to the impact that MLK had and the doors that were opened because of him. But for now let’s hit some highlights starting with the year MLK was killed.  While he was not with us in physical body his impact was still evident.


1968 Mexico Olympics

The same year MLK was shot to death, two black American track and field athletes—Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who had won gold and bronze medals for the United States during the Mexico Olympics, staged a silent protest during the victory ceremony.

“They stood with their heads bowed and a black-gloved hand raised as the American National Anthem played during the victory ceremony.The pair both wore black socks and no shoes and Smith wore a black scarf around his neck,” says BBC news.

Smith raised his right fist to represent black power in America, while Carlos raised his left fist to represent black unity. Together they formed an arch of unity and power. He said the black scarf represented black pride and the black socks with no shoes stood for black poverty in racist America, again according the BBC.

Tommie Smith and John Carlos

1969: University of Wyoming’s “Black 14”

“When the University of Wyoming was slated to play Brigham Young University in 1969, 14 of Wyoming’s black football players wanted to protest the game, the church of Latter Day Saints forbade African-Americans from entering the priesthood,” writes NPR. “When the players approached their coach he refused. When they later asked him to reconsider, he banned them from the team.”

These teammates became known as the “Black 14,” who wore black arm bands during the game.

“It was my time to contribute to the social revolution,” Mel Hamilton, one of the players, told the AP in 2009.

The Black 14—and their armbands—turned into symbols in that era.

Wyoming Black 14

What We Expect of Black Athletes, Especially in the Days of “Black Lives Matter” Movement

“It seems that our expectations of athletes—and their political participation—has evolved over time,” notes National Public Radio (NPR).

“Remember what Charles Barkley was saying?” Jeffrey Sammons—a New York University professor whose work examines race, history and sports, told NPR.

“I am not a role model, he famously said. “Just because I dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids.”

Barkley recently announced his support of the Ferguson grand jury.

“Athletes were certainly the most visible symbols of black success, and we can look to Jack Johnson, and Joe Lewis, and Jackie Robinson and see that,” Sammons, who wrote the book Beyond The Ring: The Role Of Boxing In American Society,” he told NPR.

“But as blacks have broken through in other areas…I think that there’s been a shift in the belief that athletes don’t have much to offer, that they’re not equipped to really take on the roles that they once did—and that other blacks should take the lead in this regard.”

“Sports recapitulates the most serious and deeply-rooted cultural social values in every society,” Edwards noted in an NPR article.

2016: Kobe, DeMarcus Cousins, Chris Bosh, Dwayne Wade,
Kyrie Irving and other NBA stars reflect on Martin Luther King Jr.

As it does every Martin Luther King Jr. day, word from CNN is that the NBA celebrates with a full slate of broadcast games running through the day. It’s all meant as a tribute to Dr. King. To that end, the NBA put together a moving video of NBA stars—Kobe Bryant, DeMarcus Cousins, Chris Bosh, Paul George, Kyrie Irving, Dwayne Wade, Carmelo Anthony, and others—reflecting on King, his life and his legacy.

What They Said

“His temperament, his understanding of culture and how to unifiy a people is beyond inspirational,” says Kobe Bryant.

“Not only did he gather groups together to fight for justice but he did it in a way to where he didn’t promote violence,” says Chris Bosh.

“You think about where we’ve come as a nation a people and a society (thanks to MLK). We’ve taken tremendous strides,” says Kyrie Irving.

“As a kid growing up in inner-city Chicago I needed a dream, I needed something I could believe in, says Dwayne Wade. “And the inspiration of me hearing his belief and his dream and to see some of it come true, I know my dreams could come true as well.”

A Brief and Likely Unnecessary History Lesson

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 changed the world, gave blacks the right to vote, and eradicated the Jim Crow-era laws separating blacks and whites in public places, including schools. Nonetheless, during the tumultuous decade of the 1960s, much was still to come, including the political and social divisiveness of school integration.

A “price” on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s head had been waged since he began the nonviolent civil rights movement, and the aftermath of that achievement resulted in violence and anger from those whose long-held racism and hatred were outraged about such federal laws as voting rights and school integration became federal law.

In Memphis, on April 4, 1968, the man who changed the world in the name of love, was gunned down as he stood on his hotel balcony and the dream seemed to have died with him.

Why MLK Day Is This Writer’s Favorite Holiday

I have one personal story that always moves my heart.

It’s based in a small church in my old St. Augustine neighborhood. He was speaking there during his visit to St. Augustine in 1964.

While he was there, a man came in with a gun, intending to kill Dr. King where he stood. The man could not bring himself to shoot Dr. King.

Later, the man said, “I looked into his eyes and I couldn’t do it. I could see he was a God-sent man.”

King’s closing remarks in his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” are haunting, and read like this:

“Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all of their scintillating beauty.”

Lines from his final speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” addressing many things, including the numerous threats coming from Memphis—that his life would be taken there. In his powerful, inspiring cadence, he sad:

“If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the 20th century, I will be happy.

The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land; confusion all around…but I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars. And another reason that I’m happy to live in this period is that we have been forced to a point where we are going to have to grapple with the problems that men have been trying to grapple with through history, but the demands didn’t force them to do it.

Survival demands that we grapple with them. Men, for years now, have been talking about war and peace. But now, no longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it’s nonviolence or nonexistence.

That is where we are today. Now, what does all of this mean in this great period of history? It means that we’ve got to stay together. We’ve got to stay together and maintain unity.”

He Continues A Haunting Premonition

“Then I got into Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers?

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop.

And I don’t mind.

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain.

And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

And so I’m happy, tonight.
I’m not worried about anything.
I’m not fearing any man!
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!!”

In the Name of Love

Not even afraid. Not even afraid to die. He died in the name of love. That’s a man worthy of a national holiday, at the very least. April 4, 1968, the world lost a God-sent human, but thank God, that God-sent spirit of love lives on in every single one of us.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was happy to have been alive during times of fast-moving change. So we can still sing, out loud, and in our minds. A change is coming. And we can thank Dr. Martin Luther King., Jr. for that.

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