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August 29, 2020

Bigger Than Sport: Alexander on the intersection of sports and politics

Jimmy Jeong/

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:

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.”

FYI, two of the best reads I’ve come across on what has happened this week are from Kurt Streeter of The New York Times and Vinson Cunningham of The New Yorker.

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.

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.”

Well said.

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: