If you truly believe that sports and politics don’t mix – that athletes should shut up and dribble and those in the media who cover them should stick to writing articles about blitzes, power-plays and home runs – then we’ll give you a minute here to gather up and move along.
Still here, some of you?
OK, thank you.
Look, we may differ on many aspects of this subject, but of this there is no debate: what’s happening across sports right now is both compelling and powerful.
A number of games in different sports leagues have been postponed this week in a show of solidarity as athletes stand up and use their voices to be heard about racism and social injustices.
These aren’t single individual acts, either, and that’s what gives the movement momentum.
As historic as the moment was, this is different than when Jackie Robinson broke the colour barrier 40 years ago.
This is different than Muhammad Ali opposing the Vietnam War by declaring himself a conscientious objector, being stripped of the heavyweight boxing title while declaring, ‘I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong.’
This is different than Tommie Smith and Juan Carlos raising black-gloved fists during the playing of the U.S. national them while on the medal podium at the 1968 Olympics in what Smith referred to as a ‘human rights’ salute.
These are moments where entire leagues are opting to step away or are gathering to spread a message to end racism. It’s a collection of athletes using their platforms to be heard and to bring about change.
And make no mistake, they are being heard.
Watching it all unfold from his home in Orlando this week has been Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive back Brandon Alexander, who previously offered his own personal account of a harrowing experience with racism on our site not long after the murder of George Floyd in late May.
Sadly, just a few months later yours truly reached out to him again this week for his thoughts on another incident with similar circumstances – a black man, Jacob Blake, being shot by police. That was then followed by 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse killing two people during the ensuing Black Lives Matter protests.
“To me, the weird thing about this situation is how only now are some people really starting to see it,” began Alexander. “We’ve known this has been going on for a long time. Even now that it’s prevalent on social media and there for everyone to see, it’s like it doesn’t even matter. It still goes on. It still happens. It’s blatant. And what’s also blatant is no one is getting in trouble for it.
“Who is doing something about it? We don’t have our leader – our quote-unquote leader – in President Trump come out and even say anything about it. Why not?
“We’re fighting this fight by ourselves. I’m not just saying people of colour, it’s anybody who stands with us.”
This is where sports and politics do mix and must mix.
“I had this conversation with somebody two days ago. I won’t mention his name, respectfully, but we had a wonderful conversation,” said Alexander. “One of the things he said was sports and politics really don’t mix. I’ve heard that from a lot of people, not just him.
“But in our community, our leaders or the people we look up to play sports or do music. A lot of them. We grow up watching these guys or listening to them because basketball, football and music is what we grow up on. That’s what drives millions and millions of dollars in revenue in the U.S. That’s important here.
“So when you have guys who are big time, like LeBron James or Jay-Z, the people we look up to because they are our skin colour… what happens if they do shut-up and not do anything? A lot of people will do the same exact thing. So when they come out, sports has to be mixed with politics.
“It’s a double-edged sword, though,” added Alexander. “What has happened this week is important, but I want sports to go on. It’s not just about LeBron, because we’re going to hear from him whether games are played or not. We’re going to hear from James Harden or Chris Paul because they are big time. But you’re not going to hear from George Hill or a Patrick Beverley or even Doc Rivers because they aren’t as prominent and if they’re not playing those voices don’t get heard. The reporters on TV have a voice and it’s not just about sports any more. The guys like Chuck, Shaq, Kenny and all those guys on there, they have a voice now.
“I think it’s a beautiful thing that they are standing up because it’s making other people make a decision – whether you are going to follow suit or go in another direction.”
More on Alexander’s thoughts and then other bits and pieces in this week’s 1st & 10…
1. Interestingly, what has happened this week comes four years this week since Colin Kaepernick sat, then later kneeled during the national anthem before a San Francisco 49ers games.
I asked Alexander if he was frustrated about that, about how Kaepernick’s decision seems like an eternity ago and how he was then vilified and criticized by so many while seeing his playing career vanish as a consequence.
“I’ve heard people say that we need change today. Or tomorrow,” said Alexander. “But it’s like the saying ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day.’ And God did not create the whole universe in one day.
“It’s going to take time, but it has to start with something and it does start at the top and trickles down. If it starts at the bottom, nobody hears or sees you or knows who you are. But when you’re at the top and you do say something, people hear it. That’s why I’m happy to see so many athletes and musicians using their voices.”
2. Those voices are being heard by a number of athletes in a number of sports.
Indulge me for a moment while we cross promote and share a message from Andrew Jean-Baptiste of Valour FC of the Canadian Premier League.
— ValourFC (@ValourFootball) August 27, 2020
Jean-Baptiste, an American of Haitian descent, finishes his statement with:
“… this is a world issue. Blacks, Aboriginals, Muslims, immigrants and members of the LBGTQ community have been mistreated and profiled and killed for being nothing less than who they are. Killed or beaten by people who don’t agree with who they are, or by the very people who are meant to protect us.
“We aren’t asking you to put us on a pedestal, or hierarchy of society. We are asking you to give us the benefit of the doubt, to be treated equally and not assume that we are capable of a crime or give us a more severe punishment because of the colour of our skin or religious beliefs.
“We are asking just to be equal. Judge me because of my character and not because of the colour of my skin, religion or sexual orientation. Help by any means to bring justice to the family and friends that lost a brother, mother, sister or father to people’s hateful ideologies. Don’t turn a blind eye just because this doesn’t affect you.
“Stand with us to fight for these families. Do what’s right and be on the right side of history.”
3. It’s impossible to know what CFL Players might have done in support of Black Lives Matter and the fight to end racism if they were on the field this year, given the cancellation of the season.
But you can bet it would have been just as powerful, thanks to voices like Alexander and others in the Bombers dressing room and across the league.
The CFLPA did tweet this in a show of support on Thursday:
— CFLPA (@CFLPA) August 27, 2020
4. On to other notes and quotes of the week…
Jonathan Kongbo was waived/injured by the San Francisco 49ers on Thursday, after the club added a receiver to the roster in River Cracraft.
Kongbo’s release, in addition to that of Marcus Sayles by the Minnesota Vikings, leaves two Bombers from last year’s Grey Cup squad still getting looks in the NFL – CB Winston Rose with the Cincinnati Bengals and Chris Streveler of the Arizona Cardinals.
And for those of you asking, the Bombers released Kongbo from his contract this offseason so he could pursue his NFL opportunity. That makes him a CFL free agent.
5. Speaking of Streveler, dating back to last November no one Bombers player seems to generate more clicks and feedback from fans and readers than the popular quarterback.
Yours truly tweeted out the link to this video Streveler did with reporters in Arizona earlier in the week and the reaction from fans was immediate and passionate.
Interestingly, Streveler has already moved up a spot on the Cardinals depth chart – to third, behind starter Kyler Murray and journeyman Brett Hundley – following the release of Drew Anderson earlier in camp.
For those who can’t get enough of Streveler, here is some additional reading:
6. Best of luck to the Bombers players who opted out of their contracts to try and find work in the NFL after the cancellation of the season. That list includes Kenny Lawler, the Bombers Most Outstanding Rookie last year and formerly a draft pick of the Seattle Seahawks and Thiadric Hansen, the Global player who will now play in Poland with the Wroclaw Panthers.
The other seven who opted out would have all come to Bombers camp as newcomers in receivers Travin Dural, Deontez Alexander and Malcolm Lewis, defensive backs Isaiah Johnson, Makinton Dorleant and Ranthony Texada, and defensive end David Kenney.
Given that NFL camps are already underway landing an opportunity, let alone a spot on the practice roster, is going to be a tall order. But an athlete’s earning years are limited and it was good to see the CFL and the CFL Players’ Association quickly come to an agreement on this.
7. Read into this what you will, but none of the CFL’s highest-profile players have decided to opt out, although a few could still pull the trigger before Monday’s deadline.
Related to that is this article from Brownswire/USA Today on the 10 CFL players the Cleveland Browns should target – including defensive end Willie Jefferson.
8. Former Bombers kicker Lirim Hajrullahu is getting a long look by the Los Angeles Rams and his back story has caught the eye of some of the media there.
Saskatchewan’s Brett Lauther and Jon Ryan, along with Ottawa punter Richie Leone and B.C.’s Sergio Castillo have all opted out of their CFL deals to try and land work in the NFL.
My two cents – no disrespect – but I’d take Justin Medlock as a placekicker over all of them with his 86.5 career field-goal percentage. Consider this, too: from October 5 through to the Grey Cup, Medlock connected on 26 of his last 27 field-goal attempts, many of them coming in the frigid weather when the games counted most.
9. It shouldn’t have been this way, but many Blue Bombers players have yet to receive their Grey Cup rings because of the Coronavirus and the difficulty getting those outside of Winnipeg their championship jewelry. Yes, in a non-pandemic world the whole team and staff would have been together to celebrate.
The rings have now started to get to the players who couldn’t be here to get them first, including centre Michael Couture:
— Michael Couture (@MCouture59) August 27, 2020
Fullback/special teams demon Mike Miller:
And running back Johnny Augustine:
Thiadric Hansen said he had his shipped to his father’s address in Germany as he prepares for his football season in Poland with the Wroclaw Panthers. And Brandon Alexander has yet to see his.
“We’ll be getting ours soon, from what I understand,” he said. “I understand the guys in Canada are getting their first because they are there in the city or across the country and it doesn’t have to cross the border.
“I’m excited to see it.”
10. And, finally, if you can squeeze it in, please find some time to join James West and I Sunday at 3:00 p.m. for our final Virtual Reunion Huddle with members of the 1990 Grey Cup team on the Bombers Facebook page.
Scheduled to join James and I this week are quarterback Tom Burgess, who was the offensive MVP of that game, and Greg Battle, who was named the defensive MVP.
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