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The Clevenger Effect: Exposing Racism in Pro Sports

A journeyman catcher who refers to Black Lives Matter protesters in Charlotte as animals and calls for their arrest.

A professional wrestler who laughs at the courage of professional and amateur athletes that kneel during the playing of the national anthem.

A hall of fame baseball manager who proudly affirms that no player on any of his teams would have ever been ‘allowed’ to carry out such a protest on the field of play.

These are not the people you would ever want to play catch with or play for or make believe you were them.

Unfortunately, most everybody in America who ever wanted to play a sport must at some point play with a white man, or under the authority of one.

Moreover, you don’t even have to step foot in a field or on court or in a ring of any kind to feel that your imagination is policed by them.

And so you try to imagine them now not ever making it to the big time, toiling away in some farm system or taking bumps in a makeshift ring on a farm somewhere.

But it’s not enough.

When it comes to white men you can never imagine their privilege or their power away, regardless of how their lot in life turns out.

One often settles for calling them out on their racism: Tony La Russa, Randy Orton, Steve Clevenger.

But this too is not enough, for their names do not matter.

The name Keith Scott matters, killed by police in Charlotte.

You want to say something heavy, thoughtful-like, such as “police only matter so far as they represent the tragic failure of the American imagination.”

But you’re unsure of exactly what that might mean.

So you say, instead, the most beautiful thing a top athlete can do with his or her body today is kneel before the game and kick ass during. Or kneel and then ride the bench. Who cares? The beauty of American sports today is that the outcome of the game is secondary to what African American athletes do when they step foot on the field of play and the announcer asks everybody to rise.

You look at the faces of those who refuse and you root for them.

Then you root against all the others. Even if they’re on the same team. Who cares?

The police have failed Charlotte and by extension America and by extension the imagination.

Let all those who rise for the singing of the national anthem have nobody ever to play catch with.

Let them forever lack the courage to make believe.

Or, at the very least, let them get suspended by their pro team.

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