What can protesting athletes learn from the movies?
When Colin Kaepernick stood in front of his locker in 2016 and explained to the press that in protest of rampant police brutality against people of color in the US, particularly blacks, he would kneel during the playing of the national anthem before NFL football games, I immediately thought of a little-known movie from the 1980s.
Amazing Grace and Chuck, is about a twelve-year old boy, Chuck, from the midwest who's the star pitcher on his little league baseball team. A hard-throwing lefty with paint-the-corner command and mature-beyond-his-years poise, Chuck was the handsome, wholesome golden boy of his league and small town.
Then one day, Chuck refused to pitch. He just sat on the mound in silence until his coach, also his dad, asked him what was wrong and Chuck answered that he couldn't play baseball because there were nuclear weapons. A fair point, dad thinks. After all, his son had just toured a bonafide missile site as part of a school field trip. This was probably a phase that would pass, like puberty or the Cold War.
But it didn't pass and pretty soon the story of a boy refusing to play baseball until the world was nuke-free made the local news then the regional news where it caught the eye of a pro basketball player--the fictitious "Amazing" Grace Smith played by the very real pro baller, Alex English--passing though town.
Fast forward to Act II. Amazing Grace decides that Chuck is on to something and now the all-star forward decides he's not going to play hoops until there are no more nuclear weapons. But he's not alone. Pretty soon athletes from other pro sports league join the cause, forgoing earnings and careers in a selfless effort to make the planet a better place.
So, what comes of all this?
You've gotta see the movie. But my point? That's what I thought Kaepernick should have done to protest police brutality in 2016.
I wish to take nothing from the importance of Kaepernick's efforts in bringing attention to a problem America has ignored for too long and for helping start the national dialogue our country has needed for decades.
Imagine, with a life-imitating-art fantasy mindset, that players from the NFL and NBA joined Kaep in refusing to play ball and entertain the masses in a country that allows such brutality to persist. Then, imagine if both the NFL or the NBA seasons were forced to shut down back in 2016 because their leagues' black players refused to play until police brutality was addressed at the national level.
How long would the NFL and NBA, two of the biggest businesses in the world, sit idle and impotent before flexing their corporate muscles to lobby for laws and policies to be changed? Spoiler alert: it only took about half a football season for the president (Gregory Peck) to take positive action in Amazing Grace and Chuck.
Hollywood hogwash. Could never happen in real life.
Or could it?
Just last week, several star NBA players including Kyrie Irving and Dwight Howard suggested they might not play the upcoming NBA season in Disney's Orlando bubble for fear the games might distract from the momentum the recent nationwide protests have attained since the horrific killing of George Floyd.
Prominent ESPN pundits Stephen A. Smith and Michael Wilbon (both black, well-respected in the field of sports journalism, and beloved by this sports nut of an author) quickly denounced the thinking as myopic.
Smith and Wilbon's points are intelligent and buyable, but it's worth pointing out that both earn their presumably hefty paychecks from Disney, a conglomerate that 1) is hosting the upcoming NBA games in its Orlando, FL complex 2) owns ESPN who will televise the games and therefor 3) has a vested interest in the NBA salvaging the 2020 season.
Any talk of a massive NBA work stoppage in the name of keeping the country's attention on what might be the most significant societal shift of our time seems to have died down. That Lebron James has been largely mute on the subject probably has something to do with that.
And so, the idea of an athlete standing up for what he believes by refusing to play the game he loves until a change is made will have to live in an underrated 80s movie that I'm not even sure ever made it to DVD much less the streaming universe.
Just when I thought it could only happen in am movie...
A kid from Mississippi stepped up by sitting down and refusing to play until a long-overdue change is made in the name of a better society.
Kylin Hill, a 21-year-old running back for the Mississippi State Bulldogs, has stated his refusal to play football in the 2020 season until Mississippi changes its state flag by removing the Confederate flag its design has boasted since 1894.
Hill is the Southeastern Conference's leading returning rusher heading into the 2020 season and poised for the kind of storybook season that makes dreams come true. Like Chuck in the movie, however, Kylin Hill isn't prioritizing attention or glory. Certainly, his best chance at attaining either of those would be to take the field and play the game he's worked at his entire life.
But Kylin knows that what's going on in 2020 is bigger than himself and a year of accumulating stats, accolades, and draft position. Talk about a selfless young man with his priorities straight.
Maybe someday someone will make a movie about him.
Fred Smith's debut novel, The Coolest Labels, is about a group of Miami teens trying to find their way after Hurricane Andrew devastates South Florida in 1992.