Black Athletes, Activism, and the Media Panel at Oberlin College

Last week, as part of Oberlin College’s celebration of Black History Month, I had the honor of hosting and moderating a panel discussion on Black Athletes, Activism, and the Media.

The panelists included Kevin Blackistone (@ProfBlackistone), Louis Moore (@LouMoore12), Sarah Jackson (@sjjphd), and Jimmy King (@jimmyking24).  As you’ll see, in exploring the issue, our guests complicated our ways of thinking about this issue by drawing our attention to its deep and complex history, the cultural, technological, and economic forces that both fuel and constrain the phenomenon, and the important forces for change that we often lose sight of by allowing the conversation to remain focused too narrowly on those statements and actions undertaken by the most celebrated Black male athletes and so reported by the media. But they also complicated by our thinking by showing us that this issue is not primarily about understanding injustice and thinking our way to action: it’s about allowing ourselves to feel and to trust so to be moved to action, in small and large ways.

As I said in my opening remarks, these are difficult financial times at the College and I find it heartening that even so we continue to invest in the kind of programming that liberal arts colleges are uniquely suited to offer their students: adventurous discussion on pressing and controversial issues­—informed by the thoughtful work of scholars from different disciplines and the perspectives of participants and public intellectuals; all intentionally aimed at engaging and challenging our students and colleagues to expand the realm of truth, freedom and equality in this world and to imagine a better future for all. These panelists, and the students, faculty, staff, and community members who showed up to listen to and engage with them, far exceeded even these high expectations for what this event could be.  Certainly, I found the event intellectually informative and stimulating.  But more importantly, because of the emotional vulnerability and authenticity of those present, I most of experienced this event as an opening and stirring of my heart.

Thanks to all, including to my friend and colleague Tim McCrory, Associate Men’s Basketball Coach at Oberlin and sociology instructor, who stepped up on very short notice to tape the event.

Colin Kaepernick, Tattoos, and the Holiness of Us All

The easy thing to say in response to David Whitley’s melancholic lamentation on NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s tattoos is: “I’m sorry, it is a white thing.”

“It’s not a white thing, I hope” Whitley meekly protests. I don’t know David Whitley. I’ve never read him before. I don’t watch or write about pro football. I didn’t even know who Colin Kaepernick was before stumbling across this article. Maybe Whitley is sincere in his hope. Probably he is. And probably sincere also in his belief that Cam Newton (who is African-American and a QB) not having tattoos makes it not a white thing, or that Ben Roethligsberger (who is Caucasian and a QB) having one (along with numerous legal run-ins stemming from allegations of rape) also makes it not a white thing. Whitley may sincerely believe that his problem with tattoos is just a criminal vs non-criminal thing, and that that’s “not a white thing”…he hopes.

I’m a teacher, and if Whitley were my student I would certainly, and compassionately, help him to see how it is a white thing (among other things). But he’s not my student. He’s a professional writer whose work influences a hell of a lot more people than my own. So I don’t have the patience to gently tease out the problems in the tangle of racializing implication (not to mention willful ignorance of reality) that runs through Whitley’s elegy for the Untattooed Quarterback.

So instead I’ll respond to another distinction that I found offensive, but that I imagine most readers will not. Read more