“Shut up and play.” It’s something I’ve seen a lot of while scrolling through my newsfeed and is also something I’ve heard quite frequently out in public. I’ve found that more and more people are deactivating their social media accounts due to the heaviness of a politically charged climate, civil unrest, and persistent comment section combat. I don’t blame these people that are doing so, for I myself have thought about doing it numerous times, but there are plenty of reasons why I stay. I like seeing the pictures of friends of mine getting engaged. There are people purchasing their first homes as they stand in the front yard next to a “sold” sign. There are updates on newborns as they lay on a blanket with how many months old they are. There are people traveling and there are people growing old together. But the reason why I stay is simple; perspective.
The reason why the phrase “shut up and play” bothers me so much is because it only views these athletes as entertainers. Now, I understand they are making astronomical amounts of money that you and I could only hope to see in a lifetime, but that doesn’t take away the fact that they are humans too. Just because these professional athletes live in mansions now and drive Ferraris doesn’t mean they didn’t grow up with chaotic home lives. Sports were a means of escape for a lot of these athletes that you see speaking out on the significance of black lives. They’ve come from poor communities where there are bullet holes in the windows and the winter air seeps through the cracks in their home. They’ve witnessed friends and family die due to gun violence or police brutality. They’ve seen their neighborhoods affected by the loss of someone close. Once we fail to see these athletes as fellow human beings, we begin to lose the human qualities that make us beautiful; empathy and love.
Empathy - it means to understand and share the feelings of another. I’ll be the first to say that I support law enforcement, but I do not support the use of excessive force and I acknowledge the fact that there needs to be a change. Many of my friends are police officers and I pray for their safety on a daily basis. Everytime I see one of them change their profile picture to honor a fallen officer, I pray it’s not them one day. I also experience something similar with my friends that are black. I pray I don’t see them in a viral video one day at a traffic stop that should have been routine. “Why don’t they just do what the officer says? It’s not that hard.” This is where that empathy comes in. According to a 2019 study conducted by Pew Research, “black adults are about five times as likely as whites to say they’ve been unfairly stopped by police because of their race and ethnicity.”
Growing up in rural Wisconsin, we don’t necessarily have a lot of diversity going for us. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 6.7% of Wisconsin’s population is black. While going through grade school, it was very rare to have a black student in class. This was just the reality of living in a small town in northern Wisconsin. The only time that I would come across a black person was either when going school shopping in the Twin Cities or if we played another team from a larger school district. This lack of diversity made it harder for me to understand the perspective of a black person living in America. This isn’t a knock on my hometown or the northwoods of Wisconsin, but it didn’t necessarily allow for that growth to take place.
It wasn’t until I went to college and traveled more that I was able to have multiple firsthand conversations with people from the African-American community. It was more than reading Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. quotes. This is when I began to hear stories from friends in which they were racially profiled while shopping at a store. They would be highly watched by store employees while browsing the store. This is when I began to hear stories of racial slurs being thrown around by different athletes they played against in high school or students they walked down the halls with. This is when I began to hear stories about the hurt that seeing the Confederate flag brought upon them. I don’t say this in order to excuse myself for not taking the initiative to previously take on a different perspective, but I say it as a reminder that it’s way more than “shut up and play.”
*please don’t start commenting about the rioting or the looting taking place. This is not what this post is about and their actions do not speak for the majority of the African-American community.