Another installment of the Pressure Point series, a “Conversation about Race and Sport,” was held Oct. 26 featuring panelists Kevin Blackistone, Patrick Hruby, Ivana F. Soto and Zach Spiker.
Drexel University’s Center for Sports Management and the LeBow College of Business worked together to host this panel which covered a variety of topics, from Colin Kaepernick’s protests to Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ Black Power salute at the 1968 Olympic Games.
The Pressure Point series is meant to encourage discussion and foster inclusion and diversity. The goal of the series is to let the Drexel and LeBow communities share their perspectives and experiences.
The moderator of the discussion was Ellen J. Staurowsky, a professor of sports management at Drexel University.
“The purpose of our conversation tonight is to take to heart the fact that there are racial fault lines that run through sport and the broader society, and if we are to lead we must talk with and listen to each other — as difficult of a conversation as this may and most likely will be,” Staurowsky said at the start of the panel.
There were four panelists. Kevin Blackistone is most well-known for his work on ESPN’s show “Around the Horn.” He is also a professor of journalism at the University of Maryland and has won many accolades for his writing. Patrick Hruby is a Washington, D.C.-based writer, editor and journalist whose work has appeared in ESPN the Magazine, ESPN.com and many other publications. Soto is the executive director of the Arena Football League Players Union. He was also a U.S. Marine and fought in the Gulf War. The last panelist, Zach Spiker, is the Drexel men’s head basketball coach. He previously coached the Army Black Knights for seven seasons.
The evening started with a reception in the basement of the Gerri C. LeBow building. At 5 p.m. the panel began with a brief introduction of all the panelist and the moderator, as well as some words from the interim dean of the College of Business, Paul Jensen.
The discussion lasted for longer than scheduled and continued until 7 p.m., as the panelists and audience had much to discuss.
The panel was also livestreamed for students across the country at various colleges including the University of San Francisco, Ohio University, and UConn. Students in Canada were also watching at the University of Saskatchewan, University of Toronto and University of Windsor.
Staurowsky provided an overview of the recent history of race and sport, before turning questions over to the panelists. The last half hour or so of the evening was saved for questions from the audience, which included students from Drexel and Temple University as well as other members of the Philadelphia community, as the panel was open to the public.
The discussion went over a great many topics, but began with Colin Kaepernick’s decision to sit, and then kneel, during the national anthem before NFL games.
Blackistone reminded the audience that the issue of race and sport is not new. He discussed the life of Fleetwood Walker, who is credited to have been one of the first African American baseball players, with his first major league game in 1884.
“Colin Kaepernick, to me, is part of a lineage. … Kaepernick isn’t new and he won’t be the last. There is over 100 years worth of history towards being an athlete, particularly a black athlete, and using your stage or platform as a means of protest for your people,” Blackistone said.
Hruby expanded on Blackistone’s discussion of the legacy of protests and talked about how there is a pattern to how the public responds, particularly that protesters face backlash during their time, but are often looked back upon as heroes after years have passed. As an example, he discussed Smith and Carlos who are now iconic, but back in the late 1960s, they were not seen as such.
“Smith and Carlos, they didn’t come home to a hero’s welcome. It affected them for the rest of their lives. … it was not a case where America immediately started building statues for them,” Hruby said.
There was also a conversation among the panelists on whether or not Kaepernick’s protest has been successful. Hruby believes that Kaepernick has been successful, while Blackistone was more skeptical.
“Colin Kaepernick altered his silent protest from sitting to a knee, in reaction to criticism that he was in some way offending the military. Which, to me, was unfortunate because it gave credence to the criticism or the idea that the national anthem and the flag is somehow the personal purview of those who have served in the military. And then, over a course of time, I think that Colin Kaepernick’s silence has created a void in which others can enter and change the narrative of the protest to what they want,” Blackistone said.
Later, in the question and answer session, the topic of the military arose again. A student, who is also a veteran, asked Soto, who is also a veteran, what his personal feelings are about players kneeling during the anthem.
“I think that it’s probably the highest honor you can pay for any veteran that served, myself, those that have perished and given the ultimate sacrifice to their parents, their families, the best thing we can do to honor them is by defending that liberty, even though it makes us uncomfortable,” Soto said.
As the discussion turned away from Kaepernick specifically, Spiker discussed what he believes his responsibilities as a coach are.
“We have a responsibility to not bury our heads in the sand. … It’s disappointing and frustrating that we don’t listen as passionately as we want to speak and promote what our own view is. If we did that, I think we would all be in a way better spot,” Spiker said.
Staurowsky asked the panelists whether they believed the topic of conversation should be racism and sport or race and sport. Both Hruby and Blackistone agreed that the topic should be racism.
“It’s much easier for us to talk about race. But it’s much more difficult for us to talk about racism because that turns off those who feel that they are being accused of supporting a racist system,” Blackistone said.
As the discussion was winding down for the night, Spiker asked the other panelists what is to be done beyond the protests.
“Protests can be a vehicle for raising awareness. … It can also be an effective vehicle for organizing as well,” Hruby said. “What can protestors do? It’s what Obama said, don’t boo, vote.”
More information on the Pressure Point series can be found here.