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Black Lives Matter: Should sports and politics mix? – Al Jazeera English

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LeBron James was told to “shut up and dribble” by a Fox News anchor in 2018 in response to the three-time NBA champion’s comments on racism and being Black in the United States.

Colin Kaepernick was driven out of the NFL after the 2016 season and blasted by Donald Trump for taking a knee during the national anthem – protesting racism, police brutality and racial inequality.

In 1968, Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos, two Black medal-winning athletes, were booed before being expelled from the Olympics for their podium protest against racism.

Earlier this year, tennis star Noami Osaka was trolled online and faced a backlash after joining the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests on social media and in Minneapolis and Los Angeles.

Osaka said what she felt because she believed “being silent is never the answer”.

“Everyone should have a voice in the matter and use it,” Osaka said before rubbishing calls that forbid athletes from speaking out on politics, human rights and social issues.

“I hate when random people say athletes shouldn’t get involved with politics and just entertain. What gives you more right to speak than me?”

Osaka is not the only athlete who spoke out following the death of George Floyd in May.

The United Kingdom’s Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton attended a BLM protest in London and said he was “extremely positive that change will come”.

Coco Gauff, 16-year-old tennis sensation, addressed a protest in Florida, saying: “I was eight when Trayvon Martin was killed. So why am I here at 16 still demanding change?”

But what happens when athletes, with their enormous following, take a stance and are told to “shut up” as they are “not qualified enough” to be discussing matters off the field?

“It’s infuriating. We need the world to know that we’re not just players, we’re individuals with families, rights and feelings,” Hafsa Kamara, a Black American track athlete, told Al Jazeera.

“We are a voice of someone who lives in the same world as others. We need to be heard. People make us feel like we’re only paid to dribble balls and run fast. That’s taking away our rights,” added Kamara, who represented Sierra Leone at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf refused to stand for the national anthem before basketball games in 1996.

US footballer Megan Rapinoe has campaigned for equal pay for women footballers.

Former Afghanistan captain Khalida Popal chose football as a tool to “stand for my rights, and to help other women stand for their rights”.

Marcus Rashford used the coronavirus-enforced break in the English Premier League (EPL) to force the British government to continue providing free school meals for vulnerable children outside term time.

Former Pakistan cricket captain Shahid Afridi regularly spoke about the human rights violations in Indian-occupied Kashmir.

Arsenal and Germany footballer Mesut Ozil spoke out against the persecution of the Uighurs in China.

Rob Koehler, director-general of Global Athlete, a pressure group, said, “Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right”.

“To say an athlete can’t use their platform when they’re unpaid workers coming to the games, bringing all the revenues in, and they can’t use their voice to express about a cause that is important to them, is outdated and out of touch,” Koehler told the AFP news agency. 

In 2016, San Francisco 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick, centre, Eli Harold, left, and Eric Reid took a knee during the US national anthem before an NFL game. [John G Mabanglo/EPA]

While athletes using sport and the field as a platform to highlight societal issues is not new, the backlash and the hostility, even from fervent followers, continues to be loud and dismissive.

Some have even opted to stay clear, most notably when Michael Jordan refused to endorse African American Democrat Harvey Gantt against Republican Jesse Helms, a notorious racist, in the 1990 Senate race.

But the recent global anti-racism protests have made it clear: Sport cannot stay out of politics.

“Athletes are humans like the rest of us, and they have a right to speak out like the rest of us,” Douglas Hartmann, professor and chair of sociology at the University of Minnesota, told Al Jazeera.

“What makes that difficult is the social construction we have of sport being separate from politics. This separation, in many ways, is a constructed and fictitious one,” added Hartmann, who is also author of Midnight Basketball: Race, Sports, and Neoliberal Social Policy.

The convergence of sports and celebrity can have a powerful influence on everyday politics, according to a research paper published last year.

But the courage and the act of speaking out does not come without fear of being reprimanded, rebuked and punished.

Smith and Carlos had their careers ended by the podium protests in 1968.

Gwen Berry and Race Imboden were reprimanded for protesting on the medal stand at the 2019 Pan-Am Games.

In 2018, Manchester City football club’s manager Pep Guardiola was fined for wearing a yellow ribbon in solidarity with the independence movement in Catalonia.

Earlier this year, the International Olympic Committee handed out guidelines banning participants in the now-postponed 2020 Tokyo Olympics from kneeling, fist-raising or “any political messaging”.

People make us feel like we’re paid only to dribble balls and run fast. That’s taking away our rights

Hafsa Kamara

But following the recent surge in voices calling for equality and inclusiveness – and their reach, influence and intensity – sport bodies and organisations have taken unprecedented steps.

The West Indies cricket team was given the all-clear to wear a BLM emblem on their collar during their upcoming Test series in England.

Footballers playing in the EPL had “Black Lives Matter” displayed on their jerseys and were allowed to kneel at the start of the games.

For the league, it seems that all of a sudden, Black lives did matter. But it was quick to clarify the move was “not endorsement of political movement”, and there is a worry among many that it will be temporary – and what happens when players take on the next issue.

“Premier League clubs might have BLM on their shirts, but there are still hardly any Black coaches, for example,” Danyel Reiche, associate professor for Comparative Politics at American University of Beirut, told Al Jazeera.

“It remains to be seen how sports associations react if athletes raise their voices on other issues which are considered as more sensitive, such as the discrimination of Palestinian football players by Israel.

“This also violates the inclusive nature of sport, and I believe such protest should be also accepted,” added Reiche, whose research interests include sport policy and politics.

The EPL also admitted that the display by Rashford and other footballers could set “uncomfortable precedents”.

As a result, Olympian Kamara is not entirely convinced by the genuineness of the associations’ involvement in the protests.

“I feel right now there is the branding and marketing; it’s an opportunity to get into the trends and be part of the hashtags,” Kamara said.

Hartmann also does not feel that the NFL owners “had a big change of heart”.

“They realised who their workers are. It’s far more about where the consumer base is, how dependent the industry is on the celebrity athletes and their voices. They (the owners) have to acknowledge them and allow them the power to do that.”

But in addition to what some athletes term “temporary” gestures by the authorities, there is also still concern about the longevity and lastingness of the movement that has recently seemed to gain momentum.

While Hartmann believes the recent movement has “opened a door” and led to a “significant shift in public perception”, Kamara has reminded her fellow athletes the onus was on them to not “let up” and be a greater and longer part of the conversation despite the criticism.

“If we continue to keep at it, wear the armbands, take a knee and speak up, we’ll let people know it wasn’t a one-off, but it’s our lives we’re talking about – on and off the court.

“We understand that we live a very privileged life. We have a following, and we need to use it to its extreme. We have to keep our word and stand our ground.”

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Chris Evans hopes to shield democracy with politics website – meadowlakeNOW

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“This was born out of the same reason I do what I do on Twitter. You want to try and help. You want to try and use the platform that you’ve been given the right way,” Evans said. “And this felt like it could cast the widest net because it actually removed my personal politics and just tried to offer information to people who may want to participate.”

The site is divided into three sections. One includes three Republicans and three Democrats answering questions about broad long-term issues like immigration, climate change, student debt and gerrymandering. The second allows politicians to upload solo messages about hot topics like Trump’s executive orders or TikTok ban. And a “counterpoints” section highlights moderated interparty debates: Should schools reopen during the pandemic? Should the government require mail-in voting?

The site is intended to educate, not advocate, Evans says. It’s built without incentives toward extremes. There are no view counters, like or dislike buttons, or comments sections. Some of the videos are fact-checked by an outside group.

“The reason for doing this site is to combat the proliferation of misinformation,” Evans said in an interview from his home in Boston. “A lot of the misinformation out there comes from individuals who have created these platforms and they pull snippets of information to places and create a narrative. And it’s a lot of conjecture. And you hope that the elected officials who are in office are the ones trying to cut through that.”

Evans, whose uncle served in Congress as a Democrat for a decade ending last year, says he and Kassen had to push hard to convince Republicans to participate. The 39-year-old actor had thrilled liberals early in Trump’s term, calling the president “Biff” and a “meatball.”

Kassen said Evans’ reputation left the pair with “a hill to climb” as the pair visited offices around the Capitol pitching their vision of an impartial online venue: “Our hard work and his charm allowed us to keep going. But for sure, there was a lot of bias against us because of that.”

Evans says he’s been pleased to see Republicans uploading more “daily points” videos to the site than Democrats in recent weeks.

As he prepares to potentially film a Netflix spy movie in January, the self-described “news junkie” says he’s tuned out the presidential campaign temporarily to focus on A Starting Point. His social media is mostly benign these days.

“It’s a measure of efficacy. How can you be of most good, of most service?” Evans said. “This site feels to me that it could have a broader impact than anything I could do on my individual Twitter.”

___

Follow AP Entertainment Writer Ryan Pearson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ryanwrd

Ryan Pearson, The Associated Press

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Black women in politics are no longer a ‘first.’ They are a force. – The Washington Post

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Simply put, Black women are no longer a “first” in politics — they are a force.

Harris, the daughter of Jamaican and Indian immigrants, was one of 11 finalists to be Joe Biden’s running mate, six of whom identify as Black. These contenders were neither tokens nor novelties; their experience, accomplishments and capacity to lead qualified them for Biden’s short list. The breadth of that field is a remarkable indicator of how quickly Black women have advanced in politics.

Brooklyn’s Shirley Chisholm was on her way to being a first when she joined the New York State Assembly in 1965, the year the Voting Rights Act gave teeth to the promise of the 15th Amendment, which prohibited voter discrimination based on race, and the 19th Amendment, which prohibited voter discrimination based on gender. A wave of Black women voters was unleashed.

Chisholm’s slogan, “Unbought and unbossed,” signaled that Black women would enter politics on their own terms. By 1968, Chisholm had become the first Black woman to win a seat in Congress. In 1972, she ran for president, aiming to break ground. “I am not the candidate of Black America, although I am Black and proud,” she said. “I am not the candidate of the women’s movement of this country, although I am a woman and I’m equally proud of that. … I am the candidate of the people of America. And my presence before you now symbolizes a new era in American political history.”

Next came Barbara Jordan, who in 1972 campaigned in the heart of what had been the Jim Crow South. Black women organized in her hometown of Houston, raising funds and turning out voters. Jordan became the first woman — Black or White — to represent Texas in Congress in her own right.

When she took the House floor to open the impeachment proceedings against President Richard Nixon, Jordan invoked the Constitution’s preamble to explain the significance of her presence. “When that document was completed on the 17th of September in 1787, I was not included in that ‘We, the people,’ ” Jordan said. “…But through the process of amendment, interpretation and court decision, I have finally been included.”

In just one generation came many more firsts. At the state level in the 1990s, Black women were elected attorney general in Indiana, secretary of state in Colorado and treasurer in Connecticut. In D.C., Sharon Pratt Kelly became the first Black woman mayor of a major city. Thirteen Black women were elected to the U.S. House. In 1993, Carol Moseley Braun became the first Black woman elected to the U.S. Senate. In 2004, she ran, unsuccessfully, for president.

Some offices — such as governorships — still elude Black women, but there has been a clear shift: No longer are they running simply to open doors for others. Black women have won a multitude of offices from county to federal levels in recent decades, building power along the way.

In 2008, Black women flexed their political muscle. Beyond the headlines of the Democratic primary contest that pitted a Black man against a White woman, there were Black women with diverse careers and backgrounds — among them Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, politico Donna Brazile and political-scientist-turned-journalist Melissa Harris-Perry — using their influence to turn out admirers and transform them into voters.

In the blogosphere and elsewhere, Black women pushed back against the expectation that they fit into a politics dissected between men and women, Black and White. Michelle Obama’s convention declaration — “I stand here today at the cross currents of that history” — resonated among women who felt their political identities had been forged in the intersections of race and gender, and in the fight against distinct discrimination.

For decades, Black women made their presence known as a collective. They voted at a higher rate than any other racial or gender group in 2012, and 96 percent voted to reelect President Barack Obama. In 2016, 94 percent of Black women voted for Hillary Clinton, while White women split between Clinton and Donald Trump. In Mississippi’s 2017 U.S. Senate election, fully 98 percent of the Black women who voted cast ballots for Doug Jones.

When, many have wondered, would this voting power translate to power in high office? November may tell. In just over half a century of vying for political power, Black women have moved beyond firsts. Harris is not merely a barrier-breaker on the ballot; she’s part of a generation of Black women leaders who are changing politics — and our collective future.

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In 'Boys State,' American politics in a teenage microcosm – EverythingGP

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“Boys State” may sound like a mere mock government exercise, but the film finds in Boys State a microcosm of American politics, one that frighteningly reflects much of the tenor of today’s Washington and, in other ways, counters our more cynical grown-up government with stirring idealism. “Boys State” will give you both hope and fear for America’s future.

“The film is an unvarnished depiction of what we encountered,” says Moss. “And that includes the horrifying but also the profoundly moving and the uplifting.”

Boys States are run throughout the country by the American Legion, along with corresponding Girls States. Some notable names — from Bill Clinton to Dick Cheney, Rush Limbaugh to Mark Wahlberg — have gone through the program. Moss and McBaine were unaware of Boys State before reading a 2017 Washington Post article about a first in the program’s history: Texas voted to secede.

The filmmakers sensed they had found a prism through which to view the changing nature of civic discourse in the U.S. following the election of Donald Trump. Paul Barker, then Chairman of the American Legion Texas Boys State, was impressed by McBaine and Moss’ previous film ( “The Overnighters” ) and figured a documentary could expand the program. He had one suggestion.

“When kids are 17-years-old, sometimes their mouth gets ahead of their brain,” says Barker. “But you have to see that as part of a learning process. My only caution to them was to let the needle run.”

The filmmakers, who shot the 2018 program, expected juvenile behaviour and got it. The boys, not irrationally, enact a statewide ban on pineapple pizza. But Moss and McBaine were less prepared for the emotional ride of watching some of the students find their voice.

Foremost among them is Steven Garza, a liberal-minded son of Mexican immigrants. He’s more reserved than many of his fellow high-schoolers. In an overwhelmingly white and largely conservative mass of boys, Garza stands out. Yet his underdog campaign gains momentum, rising on his own idealism and his ability to connect straightforwardly with others.

“I came out even more idealistic,” says Garza, now a 19-year-old studying politics at the University of Texas, Austin. “I knew that I could run a campaign as a brown person, a progressive person and have conservatives vote for me. Even if they didn’t believe everything I stood for, they believed that if I was elected that I would work with them to come to agreements.”

“We’re a lot closer than most people think and a lot closer than the people who are actually in Congress are,” says Garza.

The Texas Boys State, like the national political system, is a skewed representation. It’s a program that, as Moss says, “has a foot in the 21st century and a foot in the 1950s.”

Barker readily grants the film has been cause for reflection for the program. The huge imbalance in diversity, he says, is something that may take a cultural shift for the organization to change. (Field offices of the American Legion interview students from across the state and pluck one or two per high school.) A Peoples State, with boys and girls, has frequently been considered but isn’t happening anytime soon.

“They can make a better effort to create an outreach or recruitment program that reflects the growing diversity of Texas,” says René Otero, one of the few African American students seen in “Boys State” and the film’s most gifted orator. “I didn’t feel protected as a student of colour. If you want to engage people in civics, you have to show them that the people who need civics the most — the oppressed — have the power to engage.”

Otero departed jaded from the experience and disinterested in politics. His place, he feels now, is outside the system. He wants to be activist and an educator.

“I’ve been around a lot of white folks before but not THAT many for seven days. It felt like I had to conform to a different space. I was trying to figure out how to change and twist myself up,” says Otero. “But being forced to self-advocate was a beautiful lesson in developing my agency as a person.”

There are smear campaigns and reckless gambits of self-preservation in “Boys State.” Abortion rights are wielded as a political tool. Robert MacDougall runs on a pro-life platform but acknowledges in a private interview he’s pro-choice. “Sometimes you can’t win on what you believe in your heart,” he says. Federalist Party chairman Ben Feinstein, a Ronald Reagan acolyte who lost his legs to meningitis, in one scene cribs from what he calls “the Trump playbook.”

“It was chilling to hear Ben — who we really love as a person and is complex — invoke Trump,” says Moss. “That was a question for us. Are young people internalizing the norms of behaviour that we see? Of course they are.”

But they are also forging their own conceptions of government. The film’s primary subjects have stayed in touch since 2018 and attended Sundance together. Some of their views have since aligned, some still diverge. But they all respect each other. Talking — and filmmaking — has brought them closer.

“Collectively as a group is how we’re going to change this country,” says Garza.

McBaine and Moss aren’t done with the program. When the pandemic passes, they plan to document Girls State.

“It’s not a sequel,” says McBaine. “It’s a sibling.”

___

Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP

Jake Coyle, The Associated Press

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