By Daniel Reedy:
It was a humbling moment for most sports fans in the Hammer Theater this morning.
The room was saturated with journalists, multimedia workers and fans, but it was the awe-inspiring presence of sports legends that filled the room.
The Rise Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE) collaborated with San Jose State to create the Institute for the Study of Sport, Society and Social Change.
A town-hall-meeting style event yesterday launched the institute with the slogan #wordstoaction.
Spartan alumni and civil rights activists Tommie Smith and Harry Edwards, basketball players Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Chris Webber, football players Jim Brown, Takeo Spikes and Anquan Boldin were featured on the second panel that discussed the role of athletes in social change.
Proceeding them was a panel of media professionals, including SJSU alum Marc Spears of ESPN’s The Undefeated.
While the event was to formally announce the institute, it became a published conversation, highlighting and breaking down many of the social issues that athletes are influenced by and how some of these athletes plan to combat the issues.
Many discussed the raising of awareness, particularly the actions taken by quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick was awarded the Len Eshmont Award for inspiration and courage by his 49er teammates. Another recipient, Takeo Spikes, spoke of the value that players of the niners place on team members that receive such an honor.
“This award confirms what (Kaepernick) means to us,” said Spikes, who was given the award in 2010.
Though Kaepernick is now most known for kneeling during the national anthem, one of the panelists felt that players are becoming even more active.
“We are kind of in a Renaissance,” said Kevin Merida, the executive editor of ESPN’s The Undefeated. It’s not only in things like taking a knee … [professional athletes] want to participate.”
But some believe this is not the responsibility of players to make public stances on social or political issues. Professional athletes are often told to “stick to sports,” but others believe that the stardom of athletes provides a platform and therefore, responsibility.
“Is up to the players to keep up the legacy of the sacrifice,” Chris Webber said.
There is perhaps no one better suited to weigh in on the concept of legacy than 1968 gold medalist and one of the most famous activists in sports history, Tommie Smith.
Although fellow 1968 Olympian John Carlos was unable to attend the event, the 72 year-old trackstar was animated and passionate, and spoke on his experiences and the changes — and lack thereof — to civil rights activism by athletes.
“I remember there were times when you were not supposed to talk,” Smith said. “We are a continuous force. We have more support than we ever have before. We do have a say.”
When asked about his role and his reasoning for being active when so many weren’t and so many others were against him, Smith said that he felt he had to utilize the stage he was granted from his success.
Smith was the only speaker to sit on the first and second panel.
The second round of panelists were introduced by the renowned sociologist Harry Edwards who shifted the discussion to a specifically political focus.
“The exit celebrations of the administration seem curiously like victory laps around the cemetery,” Edwards said. “A cemetery containing open graves with pre-carved headstones already in place. Headstones that read, ‘Here lies the Affordable Care Act, Here lies Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood, Here lies the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act and other hard-won progressive gains.”
Edwards was citing a common assumption that the newly-inaugurated President Donald Trump will remove a substantial amount of liberal-supported legislation.
Due to concern over the new administration, Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown met with the president Dec. 13 to discuss Trump’s plans for improving the status of minorities. While Brown has faced harsh criticism, Brown pointed out that even though he voted for Clinton, he wanted to give Trump a chance. Brown asserted that if the president is willing to talk about ways to improve race relations, than Brown is willing to join.
Though the goals of the institute that headlined the event was somewhat ignored, the purpose of the new project are outlined on SJSU’s website. According to that source, the institute “is dedicated to research, analysis and education focused on developments at the intersection of sport and society.”
It’s advisory board will include Smith, Carlos, multiple athletes, local pro-sports executives, SJSU and Olympic Judo coach Yoshihiro Uchida, journalists and RISE’s CEO Jocelyn Benson.