While writing the previous week’s Chicago Sports Exchange the despicable act of police brutality — the latest in a long line of such incidents to envelop and inflame our nation as a whole — committed against Jacob Blake in Kenosha, WI. was fresh in all our minds.
At the time, it would have been hard to imagine this incident having the impact on the sports world that it did in the seven days to follow, but it surely did.
The past week was unprecedented, centered by the unprecedented work stoppage in the NBA from Wednesday through Friday as initiated by the Milwaukee Bucks while in the middle of heated playoff competition. Not surprisingly, the amazing sisters in arms of the WNBA followed suit quickly — more surprisingly, players and teams throughout the sports world soon followed suit as well, from much of Major League Baseball on Wednesday and Thursday to the National Hockey League even postponing games after an initial slow response.
Naomi Osaka raised her profile as a cultural hero by refusing to play for a day at the Western and Southern Open. Like all the sports and athletes that sacrificed playing time and broadcast hours in order to make a statement that was very much needed, Osaka returned to action over the weekend but she continued both to compete and inspire with her presence, despite expressing gratitude that she didn’t “mentally collapse” as she stated to Tennis.com.
“I just wanted to create awareness within the tennis bubble,” Osaka is further quoted.
Awareness, at the least, is something we all have more of entering this next week and that’s thanks in large part to the selfless actions of so many professional athletes. There’s still a lot of hostility and push-back for the movement for Black Lives to wade through, but there’s more reason to feel now that the long battle is trending towards those focused on truth and justice. Our numbers are gaining every day and in the likes of the Bucks, the ranks of the WNBA, Osaka and so many more, we have on our side individuals used to putting in the extra effort and devoting themselves with mind, body and soul to a greater cause. Got to like those odds.
Chicago Teams React, Make Themselves Heard
This week we’re forgoing the typical “buy,” “sell,” or “hold” ratings for each Chicago pro organization, instead we’ll size up how each team responded to the events of the week and how they distinguished themselves as allies for the movement.
To put it simply, we should buy all the teams: from the Bulls — by proxy of the work being done in the bubble — being willing to lend the United Center as a voting site along with all the NBA’s teams, a development brought on by last week’s game stoppage.
Of course, we’ve tended to buy the Sky each week in this space, mostly for their play, but this is a good time to highlight the #Skytakesaction initiative, which has allowed the team to raise funds all season for Chicago-based community organizations, who get funds for each point the team scores, each win and each loss. Learn more about the initiative here. Coach James Wade also made one of the more cogent statements of the week comparing the reaction of Blake’s shooting to the expected reaction of shooting a dog in the same situation.
Neither the Cubs or the White Sox called off any games this week, the Cubs had a chance Wednesday evening but didn’t at the behest of Jason Heyward, who himself did not play while excusing his teammates for doing so. Complaints arose, rightfully, that the team could have still stood with Heyward fully and not played, but reports have described how difficult the decision was for the team and there’s no mistaking Anthony Rizzo’s statements after Wednesday’s game. To their credit, similar statements have arisen from the Sox’s Lucas Giolito, who like Rizzo shows the resonance of white colleagues backing up their teammates of Black and Latinx descent, furthering the belief of true brotherhood as pro teams like to espouse so often.
That belief of family is probably pushed hardest through football, where the most physical sacrifice occurs in each game and more dependence is applied to the men next to you in order to do your job. As far as the Bears of today go, they seem to be on the same page regarding supporting Black rights, that can be seen by the team’s decision to not practice last Thursday and the team statement issued saying “that talks and discussions are simply not enough anymore and we need action. We are putting in plans to take action in our communities and together we believe we can make a real difference.”
The Urlacher Issue
Some on the outside looking in may look at the near-universal statements of support for Black Lives Matter or disdain against police violence and see group-think or liberal values run amok, hindering the ability for law enforcement to do the very risky work that they task themselves with doing. Such thinking is wrong-headed at best and at worst it hides more sinister feelings that Black people and their allies deserve to be met with extreme violence whenever they do not comply with police, regardless of an officer abusing their rights or not.
Once a universally-beloved Chicago Bear, Brian Urlacher revealed himself last week to not only have a lack of empathy for Blake but to also hold up the likes of Kyle Rittenhouse, the under-aged terrorist who transferred a semi-automatic weapon across state lines and murdered two protesters in the days after Blake was shot seven times in his back while trying to enter his vehicle.
The lack of equal protection under the law and the ridiculous hypocrisy emanating from how the Kenosha police dealt with the two young men was apparently beyond Urlacher’s understanding in spite of his having a son who can be considered Black. Beyond the fear of what Urlacher is instilling in his progeny, there is also tragedy in the future Hall-of-Famer betraying so much of his fan base and even many of those he’d like to call his “brothers,” men he played the game of football with and sacrificed with and bled with.
As a sports city, Chicago puts results above everything else, but there’s still a need for many of our fans to connect with our on-field heroes in a substantial way. Chicago is a city that breeds people who by and large recognize the deep faults embedded in our nation, from the inequities separating rich and poor to the literal and figurative violence meted out through racist practices, which have existed since long before our city was founded, our city being one of the rare metropolises established by a Black man.
Being anti-Black isn’t without precedent for a public figure in Chicago — many mayors, aldermen and police commanders have gotten away with it — but with each passing year it pays off less and less. To look at the way the Bears organization itself has responded to Urlacher’s social media garbage shows that there is no protection to be had from one’s team if you are putting yourself on the side of wrong in a basic clash of that against right.
It could be easy to imagine that in any other era proceeding this one that Urlacher — without the truth serum-like qualities of Instagram and social media in general — could have kept his idiocy to himself and let it further develop and settle into intractable beliefs that he takes into senility: see Mike Ditka for a clear example.
Instead, #54 is having to face up to his supposed beliefs. Whether he acted as a troll or a truly concerned citizen, this man didn’t have any reason or intelligent back up to his bile and in the process Bears fans and Bears past and present let him have it, as they should.
Maybe being confronted will seep some sense through Urlacher’s hair plugs and sink into his naturally bare skull, we can only hope. But if it doesn’t, screw him. We don’t need him in 2020 on field or off it, not him, not Ditka or anyone else who speaks ill of a movement that is trying to keep fathers from being shot down in front of their sons without even being read their rights as citizens.
It’s 2nd and 10 for Urlacher, he better come correct from here on out or he can punt away any chance of being a true, beloved Bear from here on out.
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