Athletes Have a Right To Be Concerned Citizens

DETROIT – Reggie Bush made a statement.

And it wasn't depicted in the box score for the Detroit Lions' 34-17 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Ford Field on Sunday afternoon.

It was before the game in warm-ups. Bush, the Detroit Lions' starting running back, wore a "I Can't Breathe" T-shirt.

You couldn't miss it. It spoke volumes.

"I felt it's a terrible situation and it's just unfortunate that this is still happening," Bush said after the game. "It affects everybody. It isn't just me, everybody. We're all in this together."

It comes the day after the Chicago Bulls' star guard Derrick Rose wore a similar T-shirt in warm-ups before the Bulls took on the Golden State Warriors.

The message is a show of support for Eric Garner, the unarmed NYC man who died after being placed in a chokehold by police as he was being arrested.

Garner's last words were, "I can't breathe." The whole scene was caught on video and there have been protests all over the country since the cop who placed the chokehold on Garner was not indicted in the case.

Many have either worn T-shirts with those words or chanted those words in protest.

Bush, however, was not alone. A few other NFL players around the league joined in on Sunday, including Cleveland  Browns cornerback Johnson Bademosi, who wore a shirt with the same message and St. Louis Rams offensive lineman Davin Joseph, who wore the message on his cleats.

Some fans and sports analysts will complain and moan that they don't want to see their favorite player — in uniform, no less —  voice his person opinion on game day.

There will also be a drum beat on sports-talk radio around the country that fans use sports to get away from the real world and think these players are wrong for pushing their views on them.

Total nonsense.

Players have the same rights as any other citizen. Players should be able to protest things that affect them, their families and their community.

You just can't play on and act as if nothing is going on. The game isn't bigger or more important than life.

And for these athletes, many of whom are role models, to ignore it or turn a blind eye is worse.

Long before and after they wear a professional athlete's uniform, they are a private citizen.

Often, sadly, the reason bad things continue to happen is because good people don't speak out against those bad things and people.  

To Bush's credit, he made his feelings known on Twitter last month after Ferguson cop Darren Wilson was not indicted by a grand jury after the killing of unarmed black teen Michael Brown.

It's clear Bush is in tune with his beliefs and is committed to his people and community. It's refreshing, to say the least.  

A week ago, we saw St. Louis Rams players come out of the stadium tunnel in St. Louis with their hands raised in pregame introductions. The gesture was to signify their hands up and for cops not to shoot.

They showed compassion and solidarity for the Ferguson protesters. "I just think there has to be a change," said Rams tight end Jared Cook, who took part in the protest. "There has to be a change that starts with the people that are most influential around the world.

"No matter what happened on that day, no matter how the whole situation went down, there has to be a change."  

Rightly, the NFL didn't fine the players. It was smart move, especially since the NFL has been involved in political situations before.

Let's not forget that the NFL took away the 1993 Super Bowl from Arizona after that state failed to approve the Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday.

"I don't believe playing Super Bowl XXVII in Arizona is in the best interest of the NFL," commissioner Paul Tagliabue said in a statement at that time.

It was only after the holiday was approved in 1992 that Arizona started hosting Super Bowls again, starting in 1996.

Just a few days ago, Magic Johnson said this generation's superstars should be more socially conscience.

"They have to get involved socially," Magic said on Friday. "They have to because it affects them, too.

"And it affects their families. They grew up in these situations; they must not forget that."

Bush didn't. And it was a good thing.

Rob Parker is a columnist for The Shadow League. He is also an analyst for Fox Sports 1 in Los Angeles. He co-hosts The Odd Couple on Fox Sports Radio and is also an adjunct professor at the University of Southern California.