When Derrick Rose ran through his pre-game warm-ups wearing a shirt that read “I Can’t Breathe” prior to the matchup with the sizzling hot Golden State Warriors on Saturday evening, he was not merely expressing his frustration with the rampant police brutality that manifested itself, yet again, in the death of Eric Garner in New York City. Rose was also showing that he too was sincerely affected by the grand jury’s refusal to indict the police officer responsible for the illegal chokehold that led to Garner’s murder, despite the irrefutable fact that after the incident, the coroner ruled it a homicide.
I won’t go into the specifics, for ruminating on them over the past few days has left me feeling exhausted, numb, speechless, hurt and powerless. These are feelings that are obviously not unique to my own sensibilities, as evidenced by the many protests across the country and the globe.
As a collective, we remain in shock with the callousness of these actions, and the overlying message that an unarmed man selling loose cigarettes can be sanctioned for death while as Chris Rock says, “In America, if you fraudulently sell cigarettes the cops will kill you. But if you fraudulently sell mortgages, you’ll get a bonus!”
Rose has emerged, along with the likes of NFL star Reggie Bush, Tavon Austin and his St. Louis Rams teammates and a host of others on the professional landscape who have chosen to use their elevated platform to express their hurt, empathy and frustration with how the recent string of grand jury cowardice is pouring a profuse amount of salt into wounds that have long been festering.
Folks are simply angry, tired and fed up with the perpetrators of these crimes routinely going unpunished.
Many, like myself, were proud of Rose, one of Chicago’s favorite sons who has proven that he is not from the Michael Jordan School of Public Ambivalence, but rather that he’s a sensitive and conscientious soul who is unafraid to stand up for what is right, in the way that he, and he alone, chooses to do so.
And the fact that he, and many others, are choosing to do so, especially after living through the age of Jordan – the most powerful athlete in modern times within the cult of personality, marketing and media adoration, where his most profound public announcement was, “Republicans buy shoes too,” after declining to publicly endorse a Democratic candidate in a heated Senate race – is beyond refreshing.
It’s great to see these guys following in the tradition of Bill Russell, Jim Brown, Muhammad Ali, and the likes of John Carlos and Tommy Smith on the medal stand at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, refusing to be apolitical. Rose, unlike Jordan, is less concerned with his marketing and endorsement portfolio, as he is with the injustice of what’s happening in the communities that are very much emblematic of the one he came from.
But what’s been so disconcerting to me has been the response of people like Dan Bernstein, a prominent CBS Talk-Radio host and journalist in Chicago, a man who was once named the area’s “Best Sports Talker” by Chicago Magazine.
On Saturday evening, Bernstein tweeted: “I just wish @drose could talk, or really understands what he's doing. I don't think he does, but he deserves to be treated as if so.”
I just wish @drose could talk, or really understands what he's doing. I don't think he does, but he deserves to be treated as if so.
He followed that up with another tweet that read, “It's this: If @drose felt strongly and deeply enough to make that statement, He should be able to say why. We can only hope, but I doubt.”
I must say that I love the city of Chicago. The people there are among the best I’ve ever met. I have family, cherished former schoolmates and lifelong friends that live there. It’s an amazing place filled with incredible people. It’s one of the world’s greatest gems. But if these thoughts are considered the best of anything within the realm of local sports media, then I shudder to consider what the average or worst looks, and thinks like.
His thoughts and comments about Rose, whether he realizes it or not, are insolent and disrespectful. Rose is a young man who grew up on the South Side of Chicago, whose familiarity with the interwoven relationships between poverty, less access to quality education, limited resources, vicious unemployment and inflated rates of crime, incarceration and a disproportionate exposure to police brutality, would far outweigh anything that Bernstein knows about from an immediate, firsthand perspective.
What in the world would Rose possibly need to talk about, to explain the words on his shirt, the one’s that repeated Eric Garner’s last words as the life was being choked out of him, “I Can’t Breathe”?
It's this: If @drose felt strongly and deeply enough to make that statement, He should be able to say why. We can only hope, but I doubt.
To say that Rose doesn’t understand what he is doing, and that if he does and feels strongly about it, that he should be able to say why he does, and then follow that up with doubts that Rose has the capacity to do so, is beyond nauseating and infuriating.
Bernstein should have been applauded when he pointed out, in an earlier tweet, that if a reporter placed more significance on the outcome of the game rather than Rose's socio-political stance, they should be ashamed. And he should have stopped there, instead of opening his mind for all to see, subtly questioning the player's intelligence, and his own need for an explanation to something that was remarkably self-explanatory.
Other Chicago area writers felt similarly, thinking and some even saying that since he wore the shirt, Rose should have been prepared and willing to answer the following questions – "What moved him to make a stand? Why now, when there have been past opportunities to share? Is this the sign of a more independant Rose, a man who speaks for himself after years of voices whispering in his ear? How did the idea to wear the T-shirt come about and who had input? ", among others.
Unfortunately, this is the arrogance that permeates our sporting culture, which inflames an already fragile relationship. Because in the eyes of the majority that write about, report on, and fill the airwaves with their limited social intelligence – Derrick Rose, and other athletes like him, are beholden to explain themselves to the satisfaction of others who have no empathy or understanding of a basic human principle, and at the very least how it pertains to African-Americans and other minorities.
Many athletes, like Rose, in the patronizing eyes of many, are simply inarticulate enough to do so. And if they are articulate enough, but subsequently they choose not to do so, their views are seen as childish and invalid, as the athlete is compartmentalized into the infantile, self-indulgent and juvenile caricature that the majority of the media and rooting public prefer. God forbid if they don't feel the need to explain themselves.
Most fans and followers of sports want their athletes to simply, “Just shut up and play.” They want them to simply be here for their amusement. But we’re moving back to an active athletic stance on activism and outspokenness, where a man, woman and human being, no matter how high they jump, no matter how far they hit a ball, no matter how good they shoot or how fast they run, can speak up to the hurt and injustice that adds to the misery that they see, feel and experience.
Derrick Rose and many others are showing that they will continue to speak on social issues that are important to them, while also taking on the role of Tommy in Goodfellas and staring at a denigrating group, sincerely asking them, “What am I here for? Your amusement?”
But I’ll tell you what most people are really ready for, in addition to more athletes utilizing the power of their platform.
They’re ready for pompous, patronizing, arrogant and condescending people, fans and media alike, to simply shut up and go away, and let them be free to be who they choose to be, without having the unmitigated gall to actually believe that they have the right to explain themselves when and if they see fit. And if they choose not to, then so be it. Because they don't have to offer any explanation in order to demand justice and respect.
Rose responded, not when the media insisted upon it after the game, but when he saw fit this afternoon.
"I'm just happy that people paid attention to it," said Rose. "I think it touched a lot of people because I grew up in an impoverished area like that, and sometimes [situations like that] happen a lot of times. It just touched a lot of people, and I just wanted to make sure I got my point across."
He talked about how becoming a father changed his outlook on life, and how he didn't want his son growing up in an environment where that type of behavior was condoned or tolerated. Many NBA players wore similar shirts tonight, including the man with the league's highest profile, LeBron James.
But in reality, Rose never owed anyone an explanation, because no clarification was necessary. If you had to question why he wore the shirt, you need to question how you could not be as affected, by the images of Garner being murdered, as so many other people were.
And to say that Rose didn't know what he was doing, and doubting that he would be able to intelligently articulate his stance, speaks volumes about those who expressed their need to hear him speak about it.
I was always taught that you judge a person by their actions, not their words. It's evident that there are many who never got that memo.