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Obama, Kelly and Kaepernick: Race and racism in sports

President Barack Obama on race and sports
President Barack Obama on race and sports

President Barack Obama spoke Tuesday at North Carolina A&T University about race, sports and being undefeated. (Evan El-Amin /

Yesterday, President Barack Obama appeared at North Carolina AT&T University to talk about race, racism, and sports.

Racism is a hot-button issue in this country, especially recently, with many athletes protesting police treatment of African Americans.

Obama on making a stand

The president said the key to realizing how to address a problem is understanding that the issue is bigger than one person – it goes beyond just you.

Athletes have to deal with this all the time. The star player on any given team usually reaches a point where he or she realizes, “I can’t do this by myself.” It’s at that point that change can start to happen.

Obama advised athletes (or anyone) taking a stand for something they believe in to get involved and get educated before deciding how to go about making a change – whether that’s through protest, mentoring or something else.

There’s not one way of bringing about change, Obama advised; so don’t criticize others for how they’re going about it.

Colin Kaepernick on his knee

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has been one of the biggest stories in football this season. His choice of kneeling during the national anthem – to protest racial inequity across America – has sparked controversy and condemnation, and has also inspired others to do the same.

A lot of people think politics shouldn’t be dragged into sports, but Kaepernick argues he’s taking a stand (not literally, obviously) for something he believes in and that affects the entire country.

Although President Obama didn’t directly mention Colin Kaepernick or any other athletes in his town hall meeting yesterday, he did say people should be able to choose the sort of social action that best suits the issue they’re addressing. While many may not like Kaepernick’s actions, calling them disrespectful, he chose this form of silent protest because of the publicity it would get. Good publicity, bad publicity – it’s all bringing light to what many see as racial bias among the police.

Chad Kelly on a high school football field

Yesterday on the show we talked some about NFL prospect Chad Kelly. The Ole Miss quarterback has a history of losing his temper and getting into trouble. The latest in a string of incidents happened Friday at Kelly’s brother’s high school football game. A fight broke out involving Kelly’s brother Casey, and Kelly rushed onto the field, where he had to be restrained.

If you didn’t see a story about this incident, you’re not alone; it wasn’t exactly breaking national news. And it probably won’t affect Kelly’s chances of being drafted into the NFL.

Chad Kelly is white. The question here is, would this have been bigger news if the athlete involved in these incidents was of another race? There’s not really a good answer for that, but based on what we’ve seen in the past, a good guess is that it probably would have been.

Take Colin Kaepernick, for example. A black athlete who chose a silent, peaceful form of protest and created huge waves. Muhammad Ali in 1967 refused to enlist for the Vietnam War, a religious protest. Again, nobody was hurt by his actions, yet it became a national controversy, even leading to the stripping of Ali’s title and his being barred from boxing. Several WNBA players earlier this year faced fines after wearing shirts that said “#BlackLivesMatter” during warm-ups before games.

None of these protests directly harmed anyone, yet they caused a storm of media coverage and criticism. On the other hand, you’ve got white Stanford swimmer Brock Turner, who was convicted of sexual assault yet only got six months in prison because a longer sentence would have a “severe impact” on him. Olympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius was sentenced in July to only six years in prison for his girlfriend’s murder; the judge described him as a “fallen hero” who was truly remorseful.

I’m not saying there haven’t been plenty of black athletes who have, in the eye of the public, “gotten away” with crimes and protests, or white athletes who received harsh punishments, but these incidents certainly stand out. As to whether there’s an inherent racial bias in this country, you can draw your own conclusions.

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