FURTHERING THE LEGACY OF DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR
By David Meggyesy & Greg Warburton of Evolutionary Sports Collective and Jonathan D. Greenberg, Director of the USF Institute for Nonviolence and Social Justice
We at Evolutionary Sports Collective are building into our efforts a constant and ongoing focus on sports and athletes as agents of social change. We are kicking off this effort in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day by highlighting athletes taking action in the critical arena of social justice and social change.
On August 28, 1963, during the March on Washington, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered one of the most iconic speeches in American history. The “I Have a Dream” speech was a defining moment in the civil rights era and continues to be a source of inspiration to millions today. In 1963, Dr. King called for an end to racism in America through equality, freedom, and justice for all. Nearly sixty years later, the dream of Dr. King is yet to be realized.
With sweeping inequity in the economic, healthcare, and criminal justice systems, and the continued brutalization of Black and Brown people, it is time for a revival of Dr. King’s vision for this country.
As we all come together to honor Dr. King’s birthday, the EVO Sports Collective is proud to join in partnership with the Institute for Nonviolence and Social Justice at the University of San Francisco in a collaborative initiative to promote the establishment of the just and equal Beloved Community that Dr. King envisioned.
Scroll down the Institute’s homepage to view a compelling video about Martin Luther King’s pure impact on others, rooted in his courageous life-long service and living values he was willing to die for, and his “deep empathy,” that marvelous relationship gift given by evolved humans that enables others to feel, not only listened to, but also understood and valued. You can also view the video on Youtube right here.
Once again, those of us who hold strong and active values of service and empathy and compassion, we face another supreme challenge to coalesce to unite the peoples of our nation and world. In The Book of Joy, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu speak of the confounding divisions that result when people stay self-centered, myopic and afraid. In their chapter, Compassion: Something We Want to Become, they observe:
The modern world is suspicious of compassion because we have accepted the belief that nature is ‘red tooth and claw’ and that we are fundamentally competing against everyone and everything…Yet evolutionary science has come to see cooperation, and its core emotions of empathy, compassion, and generosity, as fundamental to our species’ survival.
During our history, prominent athletes have been fierce and dedicated leaders in nonviolent movements, fighting with “core emotions of empathy, compassion and generosity” for social justice. Just to name a few…Paul Robeson, John Carlos, Tommie Smith, Billie Jean King, Muhammad Ali, Martina Navratilova, and Colin Kaepernick. The sport of tennis, to take just one example, has been galvanized and transformed by Althea Gibson, Arthur Ashe, Billie Jean King, the Williams sisters, Naomi Osaka and Coco Gauff. For all of these athletes, across so many sports, it has been about human dignity, respect, equality, freedom and justice in our country and the world.
As an undergraduate at Morehouse College, the young Martin Luther King, Jr. played on the Butler Street YMCA basketball team. From his own experience, Dr. King understood the central role of sports in American life, and he used sports analogies to convey his core message of nonviolent struggle. The following text, for example, comes from Dr. King’s address at the Forty-seventh Annual NAACP Convention, June 27, 1956, in San Francisco, California:
Since the turn of the [20th] century we have brought the football of civil rights to about the fifty-yard line. And now we are getting ready to move in the opposition’s territory. And the great problem which confronts us, the great path to cross now, is to carry that ball across the goal line. [applause] Now let’s not fool ourselves, this will not be easy; it will be difficult. The opposition will use all the power, all the force possible to prevent our advance. They will strengthen the line on every hand. My friends, if we would put the proper leaders in the backfield to call the signals and run the ball, leaders who love the cause, leaders who are not in love with publicity but in love with humanity [applause], leaders not in love with money but in love with justice [applause], leaders who are willing to subject their personal and particular egos to the greatness of the cause. If we would put the proper leaders in the backfield—and we need them all over the nation—and the proper followers on the line to make the way clear, we will be able to make moves which will both stagger and astound the imagination of the opposition. [applause] We will make some mistakes, yes, we might even fumble the ball, but for God’s sake, recover it! [laughter, applause] Teamwork and unity are necessary for the winning of any game. In this area it means that every segment of the Negro race is significant. It means that the backfield must realize that they need the people on the line to make the way clear. So away with our class systems. We have come to see that in this struggle, Aunt Jane who knows not the difference between “you is” and “you are” is just as significant as the Ph.D. in English [applause]; that we will come together and work together. I assure you that in the next few years we will be able to carry this ball of civil rights successfully across the goal line.
As a pastor he lauded the creative contributions to the Black freedom movement by means of their achievements in sports. “There was a star in the athletic sky; then came Joe Louis with his educated fists; Jessie Owens with his fleet and dashing feet, and Jackie Robinson with his calm spirit and powerful bat.”
Robinson, the first African American to play major league baseball, joined King at the front lines of the civil rights struggle. He and Harry Belafonte served as marshals of the 1958 Youth March for Integrated Schools demonstration in Washington, D.C., and he appeared with Dr. King at protest marches and fundraising rallies for the movement. Inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962, Robinson donated the proceeds of the gala dinner in his honor to the voter registration struggle in Mississippi; in response, King told Robinson, “You have made every Negro in America proud through your baseball prowess and your inflexible demand for equal opportunity for all.” In an article King wrote for the New York Amsterdam News celebrating Robinson’s honor, King praised Robinson for choosing “truth” rather than “repose,” because “back in the days when integration wasn’t fashionable, he underwent the trauma and the humiliation and the loneliness which comes with being a pilgrim walking the lonesome byways toward the high road of Freedom. He was a sit-inner before the sit-ins, a freedom rider before the Freedom Rides.” In 1963, Robinson joined Dr. King on the platform by the Lincoln Memorial for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
Robinson was by no means alone. In response to the 1963 assassination of civil rights leader Medgar Evers in Jackson, Mississippi, the great Bill Russell made a pilgrimage to Jackson to engage Black and white young people in integrated basketball camps. In March 1967, when Muhammad Ali was deciding whether to face prison for defying his draft orders, he met privately for two hours with Dr. King, who supported his decision, and declared his own opposition to the draft.
Ali announced his decision to the world with fierce moral conviction, steeped in the history of racism in America and the anti-colonial struggles throughout the world.
Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights? No, I am not going ten thousand miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end. I have been warned that to take such a stand would put my prestige in jeopardy and could cause me to lose millions of dollars which should accrue to me as the champion. But I have said it once and I will say it again. The real enemy of my people is right here. I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality… If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people they wouldn’t have to draft me, I’d join tomorrow. But I either have to obey the laws of the land or the laws of Allah. I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I’ll go to jail. We’ve been in jail for four hundred years.
Nowadays many athletes including LeBron James, Stephan Curry and Naomi Osaka are deeply involved in Black Lives Matter and nonviolent movements for racial justice. Many athletes, too numerous to be named, male, female, transgender, the full color spectrum of all people have been stepping up. And their voices are being heard. Our major professional league… NBA, NFL, MLB, and other pro league owners who are almost 100% white males, have heard the messages which are driven home by the many professional athletes who are speaking out about ending racism and their revulsion toward racist police brutality in our country.
Just a couple of days ago, Sue Bird, WNBA’s Seattle Storm, was interviewed by Joshua Johnson on CNN with the headline reading:
WNBA All-Star on choice to get involved in Georgia Senate race…
In the interview, Sue Bird speaks eloquently of the power of a group of women speaking as a united collective. Near the end of the interview, when asked about that prior denigrating challenge, “just shut up and dribble,” Sue Bird comments, while showing a thoughtful smile about the WNBA fans being supportive, they want us to dribble and speak.
On December 10, 2020, Megan Rapinoe (US Women’s Soccer Champion) and Sue Bird (WNBA All-Star) joined in the Play for Change organizations’ fundraising event celebrating the 75th anniversary of the United Nations entitled: Peace Through Music: A Global Event for Social Justice|200+ Musicians Unite for Peace. They are supporting musician friends who they see leading by example in such areas as marriage equality, pay equity and social justice for everyone. (See these two leaders at the 10:24 mark of the video)
A tipping point appears to be happening with President-elect, Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris clearly stating that they will work hard to eliminate racism in all sectors of our society. And most importantly, we individual citizens need to do our part to re-build and sustain an anti-racist society in our country.
As we honor Dr. King on his birthday, and re-dedicate ourselves to furthering his legacy, we are especially excited to launch our partnership between the EVO Sports Collective and the USF Institute for Nonviolence and Social Justice to galvanize our efforts together.
Thank you for joining us!
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