Griffin is a third-year undergraduate BGSU student from North Ridgeville, Ohio. He is a Sport Management major and a Journalism minor. His primary sports interests are baseball and football, both collegiate and professional, but he is also interested in basketball, MMA, boxing and hockey.
February 17, 2021
This entry contains material and descriptions of depression and suicide. If you or a loved one are experiencing depression, emotional distress or thoughts of harming your/themselves, you/they are not alone. Help is available. Contact a mental health professional or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or suicidepreventionlifeline.org to get the help you/they deserve and need.
“I hate myself” (Passan, 2021, para. 94).
These were the words that San Francisco Giants outfielder Drew Robinson spoke to paramedics as they arrived at his house on April 17, 2020. Three simple words. Apparently, they were enough to make sense of everything he had been feeling.
Drew Robinson might not be a name that you know. He’s played 100 career games at the major league level over the past three years, the first two with the Texas Rangers and the third with the St. Louis Cardinals (“Drew Robinson,” 2021b). He was signed by the San Francisco Giants to convert from infield to outfield before the 2020 season, but he never saw the field in the pandemic shortened season – and April 16, 2020 is the main reason for that (Passan, 2021).
Andrelton Simmons, on the other hand, is a name you might know. Simmons, a four-time Gold Glove winner with a Platinum Glove also in his trophy case, has spent nine years in the big leagues with the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Angels with great success. He is regarded as one of the best defenders in MLB and has received MVP votes three times in his career (2013, 2017 and 2018), with an eighth place finish as his highest (“Andrelton Simmons,” 2021a).
So, what connects one of the top defenders in the game to a utility player bouncing between the majors and AAA? The answer: depression and thoughts of suicide.
A day before Drew Robinson called the paramedics, he sat at his kitchen table and wrote. To anyone gazing in, this seems like a normal event. Sure, most baseball players don’t write on the side, but it seems like a simple task. Robinson finished whatever it was he was writing and moved throughout the house, cleaning as he went. He set about making the house as clean as possible. Then, he sat on the couch (Passan, 2021).
Andrelton Simmons was reaching the end of his age-30 season in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. The Angels were on the outside of the playoffs looking in, and with one week left in the season, there was a small chance that they could make the postseason. Simmons was enjoying an offensive resurgence in the 30 games he played – he had a .297 batting average and a .702 OPS that were his highest since finishing 15th in the 2018 MVP voting (“Andrelton Simmons,” 2021a). In September, Simmons shocked the Angels and opted out of that final week. He didn’t speak to the media until January 31 at his introductory press conference after signing a one year, $10.5 million deal to be the shortstop of the Minnesota Twins. He declined to answer any questions about his opt-out (Fletcher, 2021).
As with the writing, everything that Robinson did leading up to sitting on the couch was normal. People write everyday. Cleaning is not something that should raise red flags. Everything on the outside was normal and peaceful. Simmons was playing the sport he loved and playing it well. Everything seemed okay on the outside until his opt-out raised eyebrows across the league. Each one of these players had one of the toughest decisions in human life to make, and they made it.
Simmons’ decision was much less dramatic, but produced more stories at the time. He initially cited “COVID-19 concerns” for his opt-out, which caught manager Joe Maddon off guard (Torres, 2020, para. 1). Simmons then released a statement to the local media thanking the Angels organization for his time in Los Angeles, and then rode off into the sunset, not to be heard from until his Twins press conference (Torres, 2020).
Robinson’s decision, however, was complex and had multiple parts to it. The first was on that couch. Before looking at that, however, we need to look back at what Drew Robinson wrote at his kitchen table. A normally mundane activity like writing took massive meaning here. Robinson wrote a suicide note (Passan, 2021).
Back on the couch, Drew Robinson, at 8 p.m. on April 16, 2020, pressed a handgun to his head and pulled the trigger (Passan, 2021).
A few hours later, Robinson woke up, a hole in his head from the bullet. For the next 20 hours, Robinson sat alone in his house, trying to cope with the idea that he was still alive. Once those 20 hours came to a close, he sat down on his couch, the gun in one hand and a phone dialed to 911 in the other. He had a choice to make: life or death. Drew Robinson chose life (Passan, 2021).
Until recently, depression and mental illness were taboo subjects. Even now, stereotypes and misinformation about mental illness run rampant while facts stay in the dark. There was no reason for any athlete to suffer from mental illness, let alone mention it publicly. Success was supposed to make people happy. Money was supposed to solve problems. So, why would someone that successful and with that much money playing the game they love suffer from mental illness?
The ‘Superman mentality’ of athletes took a sharp change when stars like Jerry West, Brandon Marshall and Michael Phelps went public with their struggles with depression (Gleeson & Brady, 2017). If athletes of their caliber could suffer from the same mental health problems that affect one in five American adults, then how many other athletes are affected (“Mental illness,” 2021)? The only problem here is that retired athletes were the ones coming out. What about those that are playing now?
The next year, in 2018, NBA stars Kevin Love and DeMar DeRozan went public with their mental health struggles: DeRozan with depression and Love with anxiety. Kevin Love even went as far as saying “everyone is going through something we can’t see” when talking about his own struggles with asking for help and his panic attacks (2018, para. 30). More stars followed, including Dak Prescott of the Dallas Cowboys (Epstein, 2020). Finally, mental illness in professional athletes was in the public eye. It was okay to not be okay. Or, so it seemed.
Even though all of those athletes went public with their struggles, nothing changed. They still played at a high level on the field. They still engaged with the media at the same level they did before. Commercials, TV spots and other ads never halted. Even though they bared their minds and their souls, nothing changed. Enter two baseball players of different playing levels: Drew Robinson and Andrelton Simmons.
Simmons opted out of the season because of his depression, as he later told the Southern California News Group through Twitter Direct Messages (Fletcher, 2021). For the first time, depression was visibly impacting an athlete’s performance. Drew Robinson is still struggling with the aftermath of what happened to him in April. He lost his right eye in the attempt. After countless surgeries to repair the eye socket and ensure his brain was fully intact and functioning, Robinson is attempting a comeback to baseball’s highest level. The San Francisco Giants, his employer at the time in April, signed him to a contract extension to give him a full chance at returning to baseball (Passan, 2021). These effects on both players’ careers may be the next turning point.
As for the media, this is an incredibly hard topic to cover. Even writing this entry, I’ve had some difficulties on how to say things and how to represent what happened. But, the media has been doing a great job leading the charge to destroy the stigma of mental health. ESPN ran the Drew Robinson story as their feature in early February. Andrelton Simmons’ story garnered headlines across the nation as he revealed his struggles with mental health last season. This attention, while it may lead to triggers to some viewers, is erasing the stigma of mental illness. It’s okay not to be okay, and these athletes are reinforcing that idea by sharing their own stories for all to hear.
Even more important than that exposure, though, is the content of these articles and stories. None of the articles that I’ve come across in my own time and in the research for this entry have expressed the athlete’s mental health in a negative light. In fact, any negative views disappeared after Dak Prescott revealed his struggles with mental illness, which Skip Bayless called a sign of weakness and said he “ha[d] no sympathy” for Prescott (Gardner, 2020, para. 6). Bayless’s comments were denounced by his employer, Fox Sports, as well as athletes and media members across the nation, and the stigma surrounding mental illness became something the sports world looked to erase (Gardner, 2020). Jeff Passan’s recounting of Drew Robinson’s story, while graphic, is an important step to humanizing the problem. The in-depth look at Robinson’s experience, how it affected his family, and how he felt leading up to April 16 may open the eyes of some viewers. It may even encourage them to seek help. It may help readers pick up on signs that a friend, colleague or family member is also struggling. That is what needs to happen to get everyone the help they need.
Most importantly, though, was how Passan ended his piece; with hope. Hope that Robinson can make his way back to the majors. Hope that the stigma is being erased. Hope that Robinson’s story can affect others positively. Hope that everyone can come together and help each other, so everyone knows that no matter what they’re going through, they’re not alone.
After all, in the words of Drew Robinson, “I’m meant to be alive” (Passan, 2021, para. 114). You are, too!
Andrelton Simmons. (2021a). Baseball Reference. https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/s/simmoan01.shtml
Drew Robinson. (2021b). Baseball Reference. https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/r/robindr01.shtml
Compiled by Breven Miller, Griffin Olah, Pershelle Rohrer and Dr. Nancy Spencer, with contributions by Malik Devese
At the beginning of the NFL season, there were concerns about “whether a close-contact sport like football, with 22 players on the field and dozens more on the sidelines along with coaches and trainers, could avoid a coronavirus outbreak” (Belson, 2020, para. 1). As of mid-November, there was no spread on the field although players tested positive for contacts that occurred off the field (at restaurants, via car rides and/or through people not associated with football such as nannies) (Belson, 2020). The NFL’s approach to dealing with Covid differed greatly from those taken by other professional sports leagues that resumed earlier in the summer (e.g., the NBA, WNBA, MLB, and NHL).
The first professional league to return was the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) which “completed a virus-free month-long tournament inside a Utah bubble” (Keh, 2020, para. 3). Major League Soccer (MLS) played in an enclosed environment in Florida, but initially lost two teams due to positive tests (Keh, 2020). The NBA and WNBA both completed successful seasons in a bubble at Walt Disney World where champions were crowned in both leagues – the L.A. Lakers in the NBA and the Seattle Storm in the WNBA. Meanwhile, the NHL returned to play in two different bubbles in Canada, with the Tampa Bay Lightning capturing the 2020 Stanley Cup (Keh, 2020). Since logistics prevented Major League Baseball from playing in a bubble, teams met at a limited number of ballparks and managed to complete an abbreviated season with the L.A. Dodgers winning the World Series.
Although the NFL had the most time to prepare for its season, they seemed to squander that time by delaying their implementation of safety protocols that other leagues had put in place. As Kevin Clark tweeted, “The NFL was the only pro league with the luxury of time and they wasted it” (“How the NFL’s,” 2020, para. 6). Unlike the NBA, NHL and MLB, which “all had their protocols approved a week before camps opened,” the NFL did not approve their protocols until the day some players began to report (“How the NFL’s,” 2020, para. 8).
ESPN’s Dan Graziano (2020) reported that until mid-November, 28 of 32 teams operated under strict protocols due to a member of the organization or a member of a recent opponent testing positive for COVID-19. Sixteen teams operated under intensive protocols multiple times. For those teams, there was a greater than 50 percent reduction in close contacts, helping reduce spread and increase contact tracing (Graziano, 2020). Yet, several teams received hefty fines for violating protocols. The Raiders were fined $500,000 when 10 players attended a large gathering without masks and the Titans were fined $350,000 for their lax handling of enforcement (Belson, 2020).
While the NFL had originally put guidelines in place, they recently instituted more intensive protocols due to the rising spread of COVID-19 around the country (Graziano, 2020). Commissioner Roger Goodell sent a memo to the league emphasizing the importance of flexibility throughout the season. As Goodell wrote, “it has been said many times that our 2020 season cannot be ‘normal’ because nothing about this year is normal. Flexibility and adaptability have been critical to our success to date and we must continue with that approach” (Graziano, 2020, para. 3).
On November 17, the Dallas Cowboys established a bubble for all staff that have direct contact with the players at the Omni Hotel attached to Cowboys headquarters in Frisco, Texas (Walker, 2020). The decision came out of the team’s game with the Pittsburgh Steelers last weekend, where tight end Vance McDonald played before later receiving a positive test. In addition to that, Andy Dalton and Tyrone Crawford were added to the COVID-19 list recently after being exposed to the illness, which is the team’s first contact with the disease since star tailback Ezekiel Elliot tested positive during training camp (Walker, 2020). Jerry Jones said that the team is creating a bubble out of caution as to not throw the rest of the league’s schedule off more than it already has (Walker, 2020). There are questions about the team’s commitment to lowering COVID-19 numbers, however, since Jones followed that up with bragging about attendance numbers. He did point out the usage of pods and limited attendance as keys to his “continued aggressive approach” (Walker, 2020, para. 9).
Despite efforts to curtail the spread, the NFL lost “its marquee matchup on Thanksgiving” when the game between the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers and the 6-4 Baltimore Ravens was postponed until Sunday (Kim & Lev, 2020, para. 9). The Monday before they were to play, the Ravens had announced that “multiple members of the organization tested positive for coronavirus” and those who tested positive were in self-quarantine as the team began contact tracing (Kim & Lev, 2020, para. 4). The postponement marked the second time the Steelers had to adjust their schedule since their game against the Tennessee Titans also had to be postponed due to players testing positive. The Steelers’ receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster expressed his frustration in the following tweet:
Two days later, the Steelers learned of yet another postponement as their game was moved back to 8 p.m. (ET) Tuesday, provided that no more Ravens players tested positive (Bumbaca & Jones, 2020). In addition to the postponement, “the Ravens disciplined strength and conditioning coach Steve Saunders for failing to report coronavirus symptoms and not consistently wearing his mask or tracking device while inside the facility” (Bumbaca & Jones, 2020, para. 4). So much for not having spread within teams’ facilities!
On Saturday, November 28, CNN medical expert Abdul el Sayed questioned the wisdom of the NFL’s decision to continue scheduling NFL games when so many players had tested positive. Meanwhile, nurses around the country have been questioning why thousands of athletes are able to get tested while they cannot (Babb, 2020). As the NFL season has progressed, one nurse observed the hypocrisy of our nation’s priorities at a time when she and other front-line workers (supposedly, the ‘essential workers’ among us) have not been tested.
At a time when so many have lamented the growing political chasm between the right and the left, perhaps the real divide is between the ‘haves’ (i.e., professional and college athletes) and the ‘have-nots’ (the essential workers who selflessly serve our nation). During the week from November 8-14, “the NFL administered 43,148 tests to 7,856 players, coaches and employees” while “major college programs supply dozens of tests each day” (Babb, 2020, para. 5). Yet, there are still far too many weary health care workers who have been denied access to testing. What does that tell us about our priorities as a nation?
Submitted: September 22, 2020 / Published: November 26, 2020
Brody Hickle grew up in Bluffton, Ohio and now studies Sport Management at Bowling Green State University. The fourth-year undergraduate student minors in General Business. His primary sport interests are hockey and football.
In my last article, I wrote about the Black Lives Matter Movement affecting the professional sport leagues across America, especially with the NBA. If you kept up with the NBA, you can see that they took this movement seriously. The National Basketball Association has shown great support to the fallen African American individuals who were lost to police brutality and to the black communities across America. I wanted to continue focusing on what the media has done as we head deeper into the fall season of sports. The media has brought great attention to the awareness and expects us all to believe that it is right to bring this matter into sports. But the question is, does everyone believe in this movement in sports? Obviously, the answer is no. Viewings have gone down due to the offense drawn to individuals from athletes kneeling during the National Anthem.
It seems right now in the sport world that there are many political judgements coming into sports. During the beginning of the NBA playoffs, we witnessed less fans watching professional sports due to the protests of kneeling during the National Anthem. In week 1 of the NFL season, the African American National Anthem was played before the National Anthem (Fans boo Chiefs, 2020). It created a lot of attention to fans at the stadiums, and the fans at home. During the Chiefs vs Texans game in week 1, the fans in the stadium booed the players loudly, as the players locked arms in the middle of the field (Fans boo Chiefs, 2020). This was strange to me because they were not kneeling, as the NBA athletes have done. So statistically, what has this done to the viewings of sports?
From research, Anne Hendershott (2020) released statistics indicating that 30 percent of American adults are now less likely to watch sporting events that promote Black Lives Matter. However, 21% are more likely to watch sporting events. Additionally, 35% of individuals say that they will never watch any event that promotes Black Lives Matter. Now, obviously the NFL, NBA, and MLB are all too aware of this. So, let us look at how they have responded.
NBA coach, Doc Rivers, made an emotional appeal following the shooting of Jacob Blake. In Kenosha, Wisconsin, there was a video recorded by an individual in the neighborhood where Blake walked away from the cops as if he had not done anything wrong. As he reached to his car, the cops shot Jacob seven times in the back. This would cause another protest in America due to the beliefs from individuals that the cops should have been arrested afterwards (Steinbuch, 2020).
The shooting of Jacob Blake seemed to create many controversies after the incident. Just like the riots, it seems now that the politicians have turned this movement into a “left vs. right” subject. For example, as election year is coming to a close, it seemed from my experience that many individuals Republican views do not support Black Lives Matter, while many individuals with Democratic views do.
Going back to Doc Rivers. Doc Rivers has been a coach in the NBA for numerous teams throughout the years. In his statement, he talks about fear. ESPN staff writer Ohm Youngmisuk cited Rivers ’ words, “All you hear is Trump and all of them talking about fear. We’re the ones getting killed. We’re the ones getting shot. We’re the ones that we’re denied living in certain communities. We’ve been hung. We’ve been shot. And all you do is keep hearing about fear.” (Youngmisuk, 2020, para. 3). In the video, you can see the emotions that not only reflect how Rivers feels, but also how much of the black community must feel.
Now, going back to the Texans vs. Chiefs game that I mentioned before, according to CBS news, JJ Watt mentioned that he thought the booing was unfortunate. He stated that he fully did not understand it. I also learned from CBS that there were two players who did kneel with their fists in the air in solidarity for social injustice (Fans boo Chiefs, 2020). Even the video they shared before the game promoting Black Lives Matter created controversy.
One more statistic that I want to share by Sam Amico is that ABC is down 12% of their viewership from last year to this year (Amico, 2020). ABC does many coverings for the NBA, and it started after the kneeling of the National Anthem. With all of this mentioned, I will now share my opinion with the media towards this matter. I do believe that the media is doing the right thing, promoting the players who believe that everyone deserves justice. I do appreciate them showing everyone why it is important to protest for this matter and why it is more than just kneeling. If you remember in my last article, kneeling is about respect and difference. I will say, however, in some fields of the media, such as social media platforms, I do wish they could share middle ground stating that there are good police officers out there. Lastly, I believe that this should not be a political issue in sports. I believe that professional sport organizations are doing the right thing. Showing support and solidarity makes you more than an athlete. With mentioning that there are less fans watching sports from this matter, I believe that those fans should look into the meaning behind the movement before making assumptions.
Griffin is a third-year undergraduate BGSU student from North Ridgeville, Ohio. He is a Sport Management major and a Journalism minor. His primary sports interests are baseball and football, both collegiate and professional, but he is also interested in basketball, MMA, boxing and hockey.
October 24, 2020
On Sunday, October 11 against the New York Giants, Dallas Cowboys quarterback (QB) Dak Prescott ran a QB draw. Prescott had run many plays similar to this one throughout his career from high school, to college at Mississippi State and finally as the Dallas Cowboys’ franchise QB. This third quarter draw, though, was different.
Prescott ran up the middle, made a defender miss, and bolted towards the left sideline. There, Giants defender Logan Ryan was ready to make a play. Prescott attempted to stiff arm the oncoming defender, but Ryan was able to hold on and make a crucial open-field tackle within the red zone with the Cowboys looking to go up by two scores. During that tackle, though, Prescott’s ankle was caught underneath the players as they tumbled to the ground. Ryan stood up, ready for the next play, but Prescott looked to his ankle and found it pointing at an unnatural angle. He had a serious injury.
Immediately, players and coaches knew what was wrong. Mike McCarthy, the first year Cowboys head coach and longtime Green Bay Packers headman, came out onto the field. Teammates and opponents also came to see if the star of the franchise defined by stars was okay. He was not. An emotional Prescott was helped onto a cart and taken to the locker room. Immediately, he was sent to a hospital for surgery on the ankle. The Cowboys team Twitter account announced that Prescott suffered a compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle, an injury that has a 4-6 month recovery at the very least (Archer, 2020)
As soon as the news reached players across the league, they sent out their best wishes to the injured QB on social media. Stars across the game, such as Patrick Mahomes and J.J. Watt, wished the star a speedy recovery. Media members like Emmanuel Acho and Troy Aikman applauded Prescott and how he handled his injury. Even former Dallas Cowboys coach and current New York Giants offensive coordinator Jason Garrett made sure to wish Prescott well as he was carted off on the field (Blackburn, 2020).
Unfortunately, a violent game like NFL football is sure to cause injuries for its players. Nobody can argue that Prescott’s injury wasn’t horrible. Yet, the responses haven’t been the best, especially considering the person Dak Prescott is.
Before getting into the reaction, it’s important to understand Dak Prescott’s offseason path. In April, amid the pandemic and a lack of offseason programs that usually fill professional football players’ free time, the Prescott family was struck by tragedy. Dak’s older brother, Jace, died by suicide. In the time afterwards and during his grieving process, Prescott had an interview with Graham Bersinger about his brother’s death. In that interview, Prescott confirmed that Jace’s death was by suicide and that Dak also suffered from anxiety and depression in the wake of the pandemic and his brother’s death (Watkins, 2020). Prescott’s confession shook the world. How could someone that seemed to be so happy, so carefree and so fun suffer from depression?
Prescott’s strength was applauded by many after disclosing his struggles with mental health. Atlanta Falcons tight end Hayden Hurst, whose own struggles with depression are well-documented, made sure to meet the QB after their teams had a game and express his respect for Prescott’s courage (Al-Khateeb, 2020). For every good story, like Hurst’s, there is a bad one. As Hayden Hurst was supporting Prescott, FOX Sports analyst Skip Bayless was tearing him down. On Undisputed, Bayless called Prescott’s admission weak, stating that “If you reveal publicly any little weakness, it can affect your team’s ability to believe in you in the toughest spot” (Bonesteel, 2020, para. 8). Immediately, athletes, media members and fans alike rushed to Prescott’s support. Bayless was torn down, just like he attempted to tear down an important, brave and courageous act by a well-known athlete to pull back the curtain on mental health. Bayless attempted to walk back his comments, but his “opinion” remains a stain on Prescott’s already trying offseason.
In addition to the loss of his brother and the debacle with Skip Bayless, Prescott was in the middle of tense contract negotiations with the Cowboys. Prescott decided to play the 2020 season under the franchise tag after he determined the Cowboys’ offer of a 5-year deal with an annual value of $34.5 million and over $100 million of that guaranteed (Archer, 2020). Prescott believed he was worth more than the Cowboys were offering, and he decided to play the 2020 season under the franchise tag. Fans across the nation, especially Cowboys fans, were taken aback by the QB’s decision. How could Prescott leave millions of dollars at the table like that? Or, for those wanting Prescott to stay with the ‘Boys, how much will those millions of dollars Prescott wants that Jerry Jones refuses to give him matter?
Now, though, Prescott’s injury puts a new discussion on the table. Dak bet on himself, and whether you agree with that or not, it has consequences now as his franchise tag will expire before he plays another game. Fans and media members alike have been asking if Prescott turning down a long-term contract was a bad idea or not, and the truth is we won’t know until Prescott returns (Brandt, 2020).
Prescott’s contract is not what the media is focusing on now, though. That’s reserved for “the worst people on Twitter” to look at (Barnwell, 2020, para. 18). Instead, the shock of the injury is all the media can focus on, and rightfully so. Injuries like Prescott’s – seen in Alex Smith, Gordon Hayward and Kevin Ware – have always captivated the media. You’d have to go back to Joe Theismann and Lawrence Taylor’s infamous hit on him to see a true franchise quarterback go down like this. No offense to Alex Smith.
Immediately after Prescott was taken off the field, the NFL’s YouTube channel posted a video of the injury. The NFL’s YouTube channel is a site filled with highlights, fantasy videos and commercials showing the all-time greats in a ballroom for the 100th anniversary of the league. While Prescott’s injury is something that most likely would be covered there, and for good reason, anything that happens to one of the faces of the league should be covered by the league’s media outlets. But, labelling it as a “Can’t Miss Play” on the thumbnail is something the league seriously missed on (Heyen, 2020, para. 1). Something about a franchise quarterback and star of the league being carted off in tears isn’t a “can’t miss play” to me (Heyen, 2020, para.1) The League, always committed to protecting the shield, was called out on social media by The Ringer’s Rodger Sherman for their labelling of the grotesque injury.
Shortly after the social media firestorm that followed Sherman’s tweet, the NFL deleted the video (Heyen, 2020). As Sherman pointed out, someone would post the video and it would go viral. But why did the official NFL YouTube account feel the need to do that? To profit off of the injury of Dak Prescott? The NFL in 2015 struck a “multi-million dollar deal” with YouTube and Google to post official highlights on the platform (McSpadden, 2015, para. 4). In addition to that, YouTube accounts in 2013 earned an average of $7.60 per 1000 views on their videos, with that number only increasing as the popularity of the platform increases (Rosenberg, 2020). The fact that the NFL was actively profiting off of their star’s injury is horrible, and if that’s how they treat a face of the league like Dak Prescott, how would they treat a lesser-known player?
The media covering the league is not sterling clean either. Well-respected analyst and Hall of Fame head coach Tony Dungy fell into hot water after saying that Dak’s injury could be a “blessing in disguise” for the Cowboys (Heck, 2020, para. 4). While Dungy attempted to walk back his comments on Twitter after the blowback, the damage was done.
If someone covering the NFL can call an injury a “blessing,” what else can they do? While most can agree that Dungy is a well-respected and high-character person, he made a mistake here. That can explain why he faced much less of a blowback than Skip Bayless, although their comments are on equal levels. Without social media to hold these analysts and accounts liable for their slander on one of the most respected players in the game, Dak Prescott’s name could be further dragged through the mud.
Everything that happened to Prescott was horrible, but something could come out of this to help it all. Prescott’s battle with the media and his dedication to himself can inspire players to follow his example. Sure, there has been negative publicity and coverage on everything that Prescott’s been through, but the path that he’s laid and the way he’s handled it can allow more players to pursue contracts that they are truly worth and speak out about mental health. Dak Prescott is now a poster boy for players battling the power of the NFL and the media, and there is nobody better to prove that he made the right decision for himself and turn around the way players’ injuries and decisions are covered in the media. Now, maybe we can see something that gives players a chance instead of immediately siding with teams and allowing players to be humans and talk about human issues.
Pershelle Rohrer is a second-year BGSU student from Logan, Utah. She is a Sport Management major with a minor in Journalism. Her primary sports interests are football, basketball,and baseball, both at the professional and collegiate levels.
On June 22, 2020, the Scrap Yard Dawgs, an independent professional softball team, played the first of what was supposed to be a seven-game series against Florida-based USSSA Pride. The game marked the return of softball, as the sport was one of the first to restart from the coronavirus-related shutdown that effectively halted sports in March. The New York Times writer Natalie Weiner (2020) noted, “For a few hours this week, softball had a shot at something it has pursued for decades: the spotlight” (para. 1). The sport did receive attention following the game, but it wasn’t because of the teams’ play on the field. Rather, a mid-game tweet from Scrap Yard’s general manager caused an uproar that led all 18 players and the team’s coaches to walk away from the team (Poe, 2020).
When the players arrived back in the locker room following the game, they were met with screenshots and texts about the tweet. Scrap Yard general manager Connie May posted a photo on Scrap Yard’s Twitter page of the team standing on the field during the national anthem, tagging President Donald Trump’s Twitter handle with the caption, “Hey @realDonaldTrump Pro Fastpitch being played live … Everyone standing for the FLAG!” (Poe, 2020, para. 3). The President has been critical of athletes who kneel for the national anthem in protest of police brutality and racial injustice. The tweet was posted at the height of the Black Lives Matter movement, just shy of a month after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The tweet was deleted before the conclusion of the game.
The players quickly identified May as the poster of the tweet and met with her to discuss the issue. May used the phrase “all lives matter” during the meeting, a statement that is often used in opposition to “Black lives matter” in order to disregard the struggles of the Black community to find justice and equality (Weiner, 2020). Kiki Stokes, one of Scrap Yard’s two Black players, walked out of the meeting, and the rest of the team followed (Hays, 2020b).
Players expressed their frustration about the politicization of the post. Pitcher and Olympic gold medalist Cat Osterman said, “We were used as pawns in a political post, and that’s not OK” (Weiner, 2020, para. 9). USSSA Pride player A.J. Andrews emphasized the freedom to express personal political beliefs but opposed speaking for an entire group without consent. “Any statement anyone wants to make regarding the national anthem — it’s their right to take their own personal stand. It’s no one else’s right to take that for them. So to have someone shift that and have it come out in a statement that does not represent you as a person — you feel violated,” she said (Brunt, 2020, para. 9).
The story spread through the players’ social media accounts, which they used to call out Connie May. Aubree Munro and Aubrey Leach both emphasized that “this isn’t us” and stated that they wouldn’t play for Scrap Yard again.
May’s tweet from the Scrap Yard page was a deviation from the norm. Jade Hewitt, a longtime employee of Scrap Yard, managed the team’s social media almost exclusively. It was unusual for anyone else to post to the Scrap Yard accounts, so when May’s tweet was posted, many people assumed that it was written by Hewitt (Hays, 2020a). May’s decision to tweet from the official account not only took away the voices of the players, but also caused Hewitt to receive backlash for something that she did not post (Hays, 2020a). It was a demonstration of how quickly a social media post can spread and the impact it can have on the image of the individuals involved with its creation.
Hewitt said, “I did not write or post that tweet. It is not what I personally stand for. I stand by our athletes, I stand by our players. And Scrap Yard is no longer an organization that I will be affiliated with” (Hays, 2020a, para. 13).
Scrap Yard’s players pledged to never represent the organization again, and many fans and media members assumed that their season was over. However, the players felt that they could continue to make an impact on the field. Yahoo Sports’ Chris Cwik (2020) wrote, “The players may have left the Scrap Yard Dawgs behind, but had no intention of walking away from softball, especially after what happened. So they did the next best thing: They started their own team” (para. 3). The 18 players, 11 of whom are listed on the United States roster for the Tokyo Olympics, rebranded as “This Is Us” with the intention of continuing their series against the USSSA Pride (Poe, 2020). The team developed a mission statement, saying that This Is Us is “here to spark a necessary change in the softball community, gaining and sharing knowledge about racial injustice in our world” (Hays, 2020b, para. 4).
The team put their words into action following their first game under the new brand. This Is Us defeated the Pride, 3-1, on June 27. Kiki Stokes and Samantha Show took a stand against social injustice by kneeling for the national anthem prior to the contest, and Sam Fischer led a moderated panel discussion on the field following the game. Stokes, Show, Aubree Munro, and Taylor Edwards participated in the discussion about the events of the past week (Rosenberg, 2020).
Media members praised the players of Scrap Yard for making the difficult decision to leave the team behind despite the potential financial insecurity it could cause. The Orlando Sentinel’s Julia Poe (2020) talked about the risk behind the decision, explaining that, “Professional softball is a high-risk, low income sport in the U.S., with players coaching or picking up extra jobs on the side to support their careers” (para. 11). ESPN’s Graham Hays (2020b) wrote that Scrap Yard was one of the most lucrative options for softball players to compete professionally without going overseas to Japan. Natasha Watley, the first Black softball player for team USA, emphasized that, “We’re already getting paid pennies and now we’re going to get paid nothing to stand up for this. That’s how much it matters” (Poe, 2020, para. 14).
Despite the potential financial issues the walkout could cause, Cat Osterman explained that the decision to rebrand was easy. “We’re not going to tolerate that in our sport. It wasn’t as hard of a decision as everyone thinks it was, because we knew it was the right thing to do,” she said (Weiner, 2020, para. 20).
This Is Us played through donations and fundraising before Smash It Sports helped sponsor the team. USSSA helped provide uniforms for the team and planned on hosting the team for at least 20 games against the Pride with the season ending on July 24 (Rosenberg, 2020). However, the season was cancelled on July 8 after just five games due to This Is Us being exposed to COVID-19 (Hays, 2020c).
While This Is Us didn’t have the opportunity to finish their season, their story was covered by national news outlets such as the New York Times and Associated Press (Rosenberg, 2020). However, sports media, particularly ESPN, had little to no coverage of the series of events. Graham Hays was the only ESPN writer to cover This Is Us, writing three articles about their journey from quitting Scrap Yard to the rebrand to the season’s cancellation. ESPN’s social media accounts do not have any coverage of this story. Social media plays a major influence in fans’ perceptions of sports, and ESPN’s lack of coverage could be a cause of This Is Us’ story remaining virtually unknown in the sports world three months later. Yahoo Sports’ Chris Cwik, Softball America’s Benjamin Rosenberg, and Sports Illustrated’s Jenna West also released stories about This Is Us, but it remains unknown how much more coverage an entire team’s disaffiliation would have received if it occurred in a more popular sport.
The rebranding of the Scrap Yard players into This Is Us helped inspire change in a predominantly white sport. “Playing would be really powerful, taking that control back that was taken away from us,” This Is Us player Sam Fischer noted (Hays, 2020b, para. 8). That goal should be considered a success, as the softball world united behind the 18 players who walked out and supported them on their goal for achieving racial equality. Although their season was short, This Is Us looks to continue to fight for social justice in 2021 and beyond.
Aubree_Munro1. (2020, June 22). Tonight we were misrepresented by Connie May who acted on behalf of @ScrapYardFP I’m appalled by the insentivity & will not represent Scrap Yard ever again. I’m so sorry to all my friends & teammates and the future softball players that are hurt by this. [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/Aubree_Munro1/status/1275247782648053760?s=20
aubrey_lynne10. (2020, June 22). THIS ISN’T US! What has happened was incredibly inconsiderate, we do not condone, and will no longer be supporting @ScrapYardFP due to the actions taken behind our backs. This season was ment to be something special, to be a light in the darkness. [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/aubrey_lynne10/status/1275239965862002692?s=20
Griffin is a third-year undergraduate BGSU student from North Ridgeville, Ohio. He is a Sport Management major and a Journalism minor. His primary sports interests are baseball and football, both collegiate and professional, but he is also interested in basketball, MMA, boxing and hockey
September 29, 2020
The NFL is back like we’ve never seen it before. Gone are the days of packed stadiums. Now the players duke it out on the gridiron in an empty, cavernous structure to be projected across the nation. Gone are the days of preparation and intrigue, with preseason being eliminated, training camps closed to the public and the season starting. Leading up to and after Week 1, however, there was the same excitement across the nation as the NFL prepared its return and successfully delivered the same product we’ve all grown accustomed to seeing.
Week 2, however, took some of the excitement away from the new season and the return of the nation’s most popular sports league. Stars like Christian McCaffrey, Byron Jones, Michael Thomas and Jimmy Garoppolo all went down with injuries that will cost them multiple weeks of the season. Others, like Nick Bosa, Saquon Barkley, Anthony Barr and Malik Hooker will miss the season (J. Jones, 2020). Teams like the Denver Broncos, San Francisco 49ers and New York Giants lost multiple key contributors to major injuries and will have a hard time in the rest of the season (Gagnon, 2020).
While the problem of injuries is pretty straight forward, the print coverage of it is quite dynamic and interesting.
Aside from the basic reporting about what happened, who got hurt and how long they’ll be out, most writers are trying to figure out why. Why did so many players go down? Some point to the lack of a preseason and offseason training program due to Covid-19. Many believed that the sudden move from relaxed walk-through type practices into full games would contribute to soft-tissue injuries (K. Jones, 2020; Wilner, 2020). In fact, current NFLPA President and Cleveland Browns center J.C. Tretter wrote a letter to the NFL outlining the fact that after the 2011 NFL lockout and similarly shortened offseason, soft-tissue injuries like those seen in Week 2 increased by 25% (K. Jones, 2020). Obviously, there are not a lot of comparisons that can be made in this unique 2020 season, but a shortened 2011 is a good place to start. That sudden increase, from no contact to full contact, could result in an increase and has in the past (Wilner, 2020).
Others, though, believe that explanation is not enough. They believe it is important to take into account the lack of major injuries in Week 1, which should have been even worse if the problem was conditioning. In addition, most of the injuries came on big hits and high contact plays, not in running or some other non-contact way (Tanier, 2020b). If conditioning, and in turn, Covid-19, was the main cause of these injuries, then why was the onslaught delayed? Why did we get through Week 1 relatively unscathed? And why were so many injuries because of violent tackles? Saquon Barkley was injured when he was tackled on the sideline. Nick Bosa was injured in an awkward block. Drew Lock was injured after being thrown violently on the ground in a sack. These can’t be ignored as we debate the effects of Covid-19 in sports.
Aside from the cause of the injuries, though, there is the coverage of them. Why is this week such a big deal as opposed to other major injury weeks in the past? Why is this different than the lengthy injury lists of preseason games? Well, fantasy football is a driving factor in that. As sports gambling becomes more and more normalized and legalized across the country, more traditional media outlets, such as USA Today and The New York Times, are covering fantasy sports, especially football. Instead of the focus on the team and the players’ health, the focus is now on “your cousin Carmine’s Metuchen Murder Hornets… us[ing] up all of their fantasy waiver points” (Tanier, 2020a, para. 11). This is a dangerous precedent to set. Yes, a lot of people are playing fantasy sports and care about their teams, but that cannot come before these players’ health and well-being. The media plays into that dangerous idea, and it needs to break free.
Week 2 was a wild week, filled with excitement and happiness, but also with injuries and sadness. The NFL is a dangerous league playing a violent sport, but the media needs to make sure they have the right ideas in mind while reporting on the results of that violence. Looking for causes and solutions is good, but focusing its coverage on the players driving fantasy sports instead of the defensive, special teams and role players that go down each week is not helping the problem. The media needs to break out of its gambling, fantasy-focused reporting and just focus on the facts and how to best report on the full story – and include all players in that reporting.
Pershelle Rohrer is a second-year BGSU student from Logan, Utah. She is a Sport Management major with a minor in Journalism. Her primary sports interests are football, basketball,and baseball, both at the professional and collegiate levels.
Milwaukee Bucks players refused to play Game 5 of their first-round playoff series against the Orlando Magic on August 26 in response to the police shooting of a Black man in Kenosha, Wisconsin on August 23. Their actions led to widespread boycotts throughout the NBA and across the sports world.
Jacob Blake, a Black man, was shot seven times by a police officer while entering his vehicle, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down (Cohen, 2020). Three of Blake’s six children were inside the vehicle at the time of the shooting. Videos of the shooting quickly went viral on social media, and athletes quickly used their platforms to speak out against racial injustice.
Oklahoma City Thunder guard and National Basketball Players’ Association President Chris Paul sent a message of support to Blake and his family following the Thunder’s Game 4 win over the Houston Rockets, encouraging people to register to vote (Cohen, 2020). Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James asked, “Why does it always have to get to the point where we see the guns firing?” (“Inside the hectic,” 2020, para. 3). Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers, the son of a police officer, said, “We keep loving this country, and this country does not love us back” (para. 5).
Bringing attention to social injustice and police brutality in America has been the ultimate goal for NBA players in the bubble since the killing of George Floyd in May. The shooting of Blake reawakened the players’ anger, and teams began to consider boycotting their playoff games in order to raise awareness. The Toronto Raptors were the first to discuss a boycott, considering skipping the opening game of their second-round series against the Boston Celtics scheduled for August 27 (Cohen, 2020).
The Milwaukee Bucks became the first team to boycott their game on August 26, participating in pregame warm-ups and media sessions before ultimately deciding not to play shortly before tipoff. Instead, the team participated in a Zoom call with Wisconsin lieutenant governor Mandela Barnes and attorney general Josh Kaul (“Inside the hectic,” 2020). Milwaukee is about 40 miles north of Kenosha, where Jacob Blake was shot.
Barnes said, “They just wanted to know what they could do. I mean, they were very interested in a call to action. They wanted something tangible that they could do in the short and long term. They wanted the walkout to be Step 1” (“Inside the hectic, 2020, para. 19).
The Bucks emerged from the locker room after over three hours, speaking to the media about their decision not to play. The Rockets and Thunder planned to follow the Bucks’ lead by boycotting their game, and the Los Angeles Lakers and Portland Trail Blazers discussed doing the same. The NBA ultimately postponed all playoff games for that evening and the following day (Owens, 2020).
A quote from an ESPN article reflects on the events of the day: “The Bucks didn’t expect to be the thread that caused the NBA to unravel, one player said. But that thread had been fraying for awhile” (“Inside the hectic, 2020, paras. 10-11).
The NBA boycott also led to postponements of matches in the WNBA, NHL, MLB, MLS, and even tennis (“Inside the hectic,” 2020).
NBA analyst Kenny Smith walked off the set of Inside the NBA in response to the boycott, saying, “And for me . . . as a Black man, as a former player, I think it’s best for me to support the players and just not be here tonight” (McCarriston, 2020, para. 15). Eleven-time NBA champion and civil rights activist Bill Russell praised Smith’s actions. “I am so proud of you. Keep getting in good trouble,” he said (Bieler, 2020, para. 24).
Many athletes expressed their support for the boycott on Twitter, including San Jose Sharks winger Evander Kane, Kansas City Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu, and Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young.
CBS Sports writer Shanna McCarriston (2020) recognized that the statement was four years to the day from Colin Kaepernick’s first national anthem demonstration against police brutality and racial inequality. Kaepernick hasn’t played in the NFL since January 1, 2017, just over five months after he began protesting (Guerrero, 2020).
NPR’s Scott Simon recognized how far protests in sports have come since then. “This week really seemed to be a breaking point. And how did we get from Colin Kaepernick being considered an outcast not long ago to major league sports joining national campaigns of protest?” (Goldman, 2020, para. 10).
Players from all 13 teams remaining in Orlando’s NBA bubble met in the evening on August 26 to determine whether or not to continue the season. Before the NBA restart, Avery Bradley and Kyrie Irving argued for ending the season in order to prevent distraction from social justice issues following the death of George Floyd (“Inside the hectic,” 2020). The Lakers and Clippers voted to end the season, but the other 11 teams decided to continue and use their platforms in the bubble to promote racial equality.
Former University of Maryland basketball star and Harvard Law School graduate Len Elmore recognized the tangible change that the players have the opportunity to create. “Now they have started to take some action, recognizing the frustration that every person of color should be experiencing and certainly that they are experiencing. It’s a watershed moment,” Elmore said on Glenn Clark Radio (Gold, 2020, para. 3). He wished the boycott would have lasted longer due to his belief that the initial restart distracted from the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. He said, “I would like to see the thing last a lot longer. I thought the resumption of play would be a distraction and it wouldn’t change anything and we are kind of seeing that play out now” (para. 15).
Bucks guard George Hill shared Elmore’s concerns. On August 24, he said, “I think coming here just took all the focal points off what the issues are” (Owens, 2020, para. 12).
NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman (2020) pointed out that the players ended their strike before they met with the owners about social justice issues, writing “Obviously, players lost leverage with that order of events. But owners have shown they’re at least willing to do what’s necessary to present the league as aligned with social justice, and the strike necessitated a greater showing” (para. 1).
Despite losing some of that leverage, the NBA and NBPA released a joint statement announcing tangible actions that will be enacted in order to support the movement. They established a social justice coalition to address issues such as voting, civic engagement, and police and criminal justice reform. NBA arenas will be used as voting locations for the 2020 general election. Lastly, the league will raise awareness for voting and civic engagement through advertisements for the remainder of the NBA playoffs (Feldman, 2020).
Chris Sheridan (2020) wrote that, “NBA players agreed to resume their season in a bubble in part because they believed their platform to push for social change could best be achieved through having their message seen and heard on every game telecast” (para. 21). They are finding concrete ways to take action as a result of the boycott, especially by encouraging people to vote. LeBron James established his More Than a Vote initiative in June to help fight voter suppression, and the NBA and NBPA agreement helps create “a safe in-person voting option for communities vulnerable to COVID” (Feldman, 2020, para. 7).
The NBA players accomplished their overall goal: they brought attention to another instance of police brutality and helped make Jacob Blake a household name. On August 27, Andy Nesbitt (2020) wrote, “They are keeping Jacob Blake’s name at the top of all conversations and they are doing their part to bring justice for a man who was shot seven times in the back” (para. 8). The boycott reminded fans of the injustices that were brought to the forefront of American life in May when Floyd was killed and showed the importance of the messages written on the players’ jerseys. The players look to continue using their platforms to promote racial equality and the importance of voting in November.
Mathieu_Era. (2020, August 26). FED UP. Ain’t enough money in world to keep overlooking true issues that effect the mind body & soul of what we do. We cannot be happy for self when our communities are suffering & innocent folk are dying.. since George Floyd, there have been at least 20 other police shootings. [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/Mathieu_Era/status/1298719311066853376?s=20
RealBillRussell. (2020, August 26). I’m moved by all the @NBA players for standing up for what is right. To my man @TheJetOnTNT I would like to say Thank you for what you did to show your support for the players. I am so proud of you. Keep getting in good trouble. @NBAonTNT @ESPNNBA @espn #NBAPlayoffs [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/RealBillRussell/status/1298762120394182657?s=20
SportsCenter. (2020, August 26). “As a black man, as a former player, I think it’s best for me to support the players and just not be here tonight.” Kenny Smith walked off the set of Inside the NBA in solidarity with the players’ boycott. [Tweet].Retrieved from https://twitter.com/SportsCenter/status/1298752425608785927?s=20
SportsCenter. (2020, August 26). “Despite the overwhelming plea for change, there has been no action, so our focus today cannot be on basketball.” Sterling Brown and George Hill read a prepared statement from the Milwaukee Bucks players. (via @malika_andrews).
Brody Hickle grew up in Bluffton, Ohio and now studies Sport Management at Bowling Green State University. The third-year undergraduate student minors in General Business. His primary sport interests are hockey and football.
Everybody remembers their favorite moment in sports entertainment. Whether it would be your favorite team winning the championship of your favorite sport, seeing a walk-off hit in baseball, or anything else for that matter. On July 30, 2020, the New Orleans Pelicans took on the Utah Jazz for their first game since the suspension of the National Basketball Association due to the coronavirus. Before the game started, they played the National Anthem (The Star-Spangled Banner), just like before every sporting event. In that moment, I got to witness what I would judge to be, the most amazing thing I have ever seen in sports. Every player put their arm around each other and took a knee to show support for the Black Lives Matter movement. Seeing the emotions from the players combined with the music was really eye opening. Here is the video, which was posted by the NBA.
Because of recent happenings with police brutality against African Americans and the realization that systematic racism remains in America, I have strongly supported the Black Lives Matter movement. It all started with the tragic death of George Floyd. Shortly after his death, we started seeing many protests around the country, and there were also many riots.* These protests are still going around the country today. I will say that these protests have really opened my eyes. I will admit that at first, I was a little skeptical about the riots, but after doing my own research around the civil rights movement in history, I started getting a better understanding of the riots.
We all can remember the former civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I believe that when some think about these riots, we may wonder, “Why can’t we be peaceful?” I thought that at first, but one of my friends who participated in my college drumline, reminded me that he was shot and killed in the end, after what he accomplished from the changes he made. From there, I realized that I am a privileged citizen in the United States, and that changes need to be made in this country. I came across this video that provides an experiment with white and African American citizens in the United States. The article by Korin Miller shows compelling evidence of privilege in the United States.
The Pelicans and Jazz are not the only times we have seen kneeling for the National Anthem. We remember when former star 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick first sat down during the National Anthem, and he was criticized for it. Eventually, he met with a soldier by the name of Nate Boyer who would convince him to kneel instead of sit. I would later come across an article that explains the meaning behind kneeling for the National Anthem, as follows, “Kneeling is almost always deployed as a sign of deference and respect” (Smith & Keltner, 2017, para. 6). Another quote from the article states, “In some situations, kneeling can be seen as a request for protection – which is completely appropriate in Kaepernick’s case, given the motive of his protest” (Smith & Keltner, 2017, para. 7).
If you get a chance to read this article, you can really get a better understanding about the meaning of kneeling, as it is used to protest. When we think about Kaepernick’s situation, it cost his career; however, since the recent tragic events, it seems he is changing the world now. I totally agree that he is. The freedom to kneel, stand up, speak out, or sit down for a cause is everything for which this country stands. Many Americans fought for these ideals and sacrificed greatly for our country.
Often, others may disagree with supporting the Black Lives Matter movement for reasons such as the riots, or they may think that everything is already equal. But we can tell that is not true. For example, Breanna Taylor who was an EMT, was shot by police during a no-knock search warrant, while she was sleeping. The main target of the police was to arrest her husband, who fired a gun at the police when they entered the apartment. The police returned fire, and unleashed 20 rounds on the innocent Breanna Taylor.
Based upon the above links that I have shared and statements that I have made, I hope everyone gets a better understanding of the meaning of kneeling for the National Anthem, and how it is used as a protest. Changes need to be made. We cannot say “All lives Matter,” until we can all see that Black Lives Matter.
Pershelle Rohrer is a second-year BGSU student from Logan, Utah. She is a Sport Management major with a minor in Journalism. Her primary sports interests are football, basketball,and baseball, both at the professional and collegiate levels.
Cup Series driver Bubba Wallace has been thrust into the national spotlight over the last month after becoming the face of NASCAR’s push for racial equality. In recent weeks, he has successfully called for the ban of Confederate flags at racetracks, supported the Black Lives Matter movement with a shirt and paint scheme dedicated to the cause, and received a powerful display of support from his fellow drivers after an alleged noose was discovered in his garage stall at Talladega on June 21. He also received widespread support following criticism from U.S. President Donald Trump.
Wallace, NASCAR’s only current Black driver, was inspired to speak up after reading about potential new fans being turned off by the display of the Confederate flag at racetracks. According to James Doubek (2020), the tipping point for Wallace was the death of Ahmaud Arbery, a Georgia man who was fatally shot while jogging in February.
Wallace told NPR on June 12, “It shook me to the core to a point where it kind of flipped a light switch inside of me” (Doubek, 2020, para. 7).
NASCAR has a long history involving the Confederate flag. A sport with deep Southern roots, NASCAR was founded by Bill France Sr. in 1948, and the Cup Series began in 1949 (Kelly, 2020). Most races were in the South in the sport’s early days. Drivers had the Confederate flag displayed on their cars from the beginning. Frank “Rebel” Mundy had the flag painted on the side of his Hudson Hornet in the early 1950s, according to NASCAR historian Buz McKim (Kelly, 2020). Darlington Raceway had a tradition involving “Johnny Reb” that began in the track’s early days. Godwin Kelly (2020) writes, “One of Darlington’s early traditions was ‘Johnny Reb,’ who was a man dressed in a Confederate soldier’s uniform and carrying a Confederate flag on a pole. The race winner would wait for ‘Johnny Reb’ to get on the hood of his car then head to Victory Lane. The character would proudly wave the flag during the short ride” (paras. 11-12). The “Johnny Reb” tradition was dropped before the 1980s.
NASCAR began to push back against Confederate traditions in the 1980s. Henley Gray was forced to paint over the roof of his car, which was decorated with a Confederate flag, because “NASCAR would not let him run with it,” according to McKim (Kelly, 2020, para. 18). Following the Charleston, S.C. church shooting that claimed the lives of nine Black churchgoers in 2015, the sport asked fans to stop bringing the Confederate flag to races. Widely circulated photos of the shooter posing with the flag led to NASCAR issuing this request, according to Maria Cramer (2020).
Despite NASCAR’s request, fans continued to bring Confederate flags to the racetrack. During the 2015 Fourth of July race weekend, Daytona International Speedway started a swap program, allowing fans to trade in their Confederate flags for American flags (Kelly, 2020). Juliet Macur (2020) writes, “Few fans took them up on the offer, and NASCAR continued struggling to balance a new demographic of fans beyond the white and conservative Southern ones that helped NASCAR grow into a powerhouse industry in the early to mid-2000s” (para. 10).
Following the death of George Floyd in police custody in May, the Black Lives Matter movement took off nationwide. BBC News writes, “The movement has sparked a campaign to remove symbols associated with slavery, imperialism and the Confederacy” (“Bubba Wallace: Nascar,” 2020, para. 6). Bubba Wallace called for an outright ban of the flag at racetracks on June 8, saying that the fans should feel comfortable coming to races.
Wallace told CNN’s Don Lemon, “No one should feel uncomfortable when they come to a NASCAR race. So it starts with Confederate flags. Get them out of here. They have no place for them” (Cramer, 2020, para. 4).
NASCAR banned the flag from its events and properties on June 10. In part, the statement says, “The presence of the Confederate flag at NASCAR events runs contrary to our commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment” (“Bubba Wallace praises,” 2020, para. 3).
Wallace responded, saying, “Props to NASCAR and everybody involved. It creates doors and allows the community to come together as one” (“Bubba Wallace praises,” 2020, para. 4).
Seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson also praised the move, stating that they belong in the history books instead of the racetrack. “I know some want to make it political. In all these injustices and inequalities that exist, to me it’s kind of simple if we start with being kind first . . . I think they have a place in history, and we need to keep them in the history books and not have them flying in the sky at the racetracks,” he said (“Bubba Wallace praises,” 2020, paras. 11-13).
Kyle Petty, longtime racer and son of the seven-time champion Richard Petty called it “a huge moment” (Macur, 2020, para. 12), saying on NBCSN’s ‘NASCAR America’, “As we look at the sport and how the sport has grown, we were way behind the curve” (para. 13).
Some fans and drivers were upset with the decision, citing the flag’s ties to racing culture. Ray Ciccarelli, who drives part-time in the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series, voiced his intention to leave the sport after this season in a Facebook post following NASCAR’s decision (Fernandez, 2020). During the race weekend at Talladega Superspeedway, fans drove by the track with Confederate flags in reaction to its ban from NASCAR facilities, and a plane flew a banner of the flag with the words “Defund NASCAR” (Fryer, 2020).
Wallace wore a shirt that said “I can’t breathe,” the plea spoken repeatedly by George Floyd as a police officer knelt on his neck, followed by the words “Black Lives Matter” ahead of the June 7 race at Atlanta (Doubek, 2020). He wore the same shirt at Martinsville on June 10, this time sporting a car with a special Black Lives Matter paint scheme on it (Gartland, 2020). The car had #BlackLivesMatter over the rear wheel, Black and white hands interlocking on the hood, the words “Compassion, Love, Understanding” on the back bumper and hood, and a peace sign decorated with different colored hands underneath the Black Lives Matter hashtag (Gartland, 2020).
In a video posted to the Twitter page of Wallace’s racing team, Richard Petty Motorsports, Wallace said, “We knew that the Martinsville race was open—we did not sell a sponsorship for that—and it sparked an idea of, why not run a blackout car? Our team brought that idea to me and I jumped all over it. … Why not dive in straight to the root and put #BlackLivesMatter on the car?” (Gartland, 2020, para. 4).
Before the Martinsville race, Wallace spoke about what Black Lives Matter means to him. “I haven’t really slept much thinking about this race — everything that’s going into it and everything going on in the world. Trying to race to change the world here. It’s not that we’re saying no other lives matter. We’re trying to say that black lives matter, too,” he said (“Bubba Wallace praises,” 2020, para. 2).
Many athletes, including LeBron James, Alvin Kamara, and Bernard Pollard Jr, expressed their support for Wallace. Kamara attended his first NASCAR race at Homestead-Miami Speedway on June 14, wearing a Bubba Wallace shirt and hat. Sports Illustrated writer Dan Gartland wrote, “What makes Wallace’s statement especially powerful is that it’s not the safe thing to do” (Gartland, 2020, para. 5).
Gartland’s sentiment proved to be a real concern just a week later. On June 21, an alleged noose was found in Wallace’s garage stall at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama (Bromberg, 2020). The noose was discovered by one of Wallace’s crew members and reported to NASCAR. NASCAR President Steve Phelps informed Wallace about the noose and issued an FBI investigation (Fryer, 2020). Phelps said that the individual who left the noose “will be banned from this sport for life” (para. 16).
Wallace received widespread support from current and former drivers, as well as other athletes, politicians, and sports analysts. He also released a statement following the discovery.
The June 21 race was postponed until the next day due to rain, leading to a powerful display of unity from NASCAR as Wallace’s fellow drivers and their pit crews pushed his car to the front of the starting grid before the race. Joined by NASCAR legend Richard Petty, they stood with Wallace during the pre-race prayer and national anthem (Bromberg, 2020) while Brad Keselowski held the American flag during the display (Fryer, 2020). Wallace then took a selfie with everyone behind his car (Bromberg, 2020).
According to Wallace, Jimmie Johnson came up with the idea to stand with him for the anthem, and Kevin Harvick suggested pushing his car down pit road (Fryer, 2020). The hashtag #IStandWithBubba was also painted in white on the infield grass (“NASCAR stands with,” 2020).
NASCAR (2020) tweeted a video of the display using the same hashtag and the word, “Together.”
NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer Steve O’Donnell (2020) reacted to the display, saying, “No words.”
Wallace had a chance to race for the win, even leading for a time with under 30 laps to go, but a fuel shortage forced him to take a late pit stop. He received a push toward pit road from Corey LaJoie after running out of fuel, allowing him to ultimately finish 14th (“NASCAR stands with,” 2020).
Wallace celebrated with a group of first-time fans, many of them wearing Black Lives Matter shirts, after the race (Fryer, 2020). While speaking to the media he apologized for not wearing a mask, explaining that he wanted to show the person who left the noose in his garage that “you are not going to take away my smile” (para. 10).
The FBI released the results of their investigation into the noose on June 23, determining that Wallace was not the victim of a hate crime and that the garage door pull fashioned like a noose had been in the garage since at least October 2019 (“FBI says rope, 2020). The results produced a variety of reactions. NASCAR released a statement, expressing relief that there “was not an intentional, racist act against Bubba” (para. 3), but Wallace received backlash from individuals who felt that he or his team planted the noose themselves (Rosenblatt, 2020).
In a June 24 interview with Craig Melvin on TODAY, Wallace said, “I was relieved just like many others to know that it wasn’t targeted towards me. But it’s still frustrating to know that people are always going to test you and always just going to try and debunk you and that’s what I’m trying to wrap my head around now” (Rosenblatt, 2020, para. 2).
NASCAR released an image of the noose on June 25 following an internal investigation by the organization. Steve Phelps defended NASCAR’s reaction while admitting that he could have worded his initial statement better. “Upon learning of seeing the noose, our initial reaction was to protect our driver. … In hindsight, we should have — I should have — used the word ‘alleged’ in our statement. … As you can see from the photo, the noose was real, as was our concern for Bubba. With similar emotion, others across our industry and our media stood up to defend the NASCAR family — our NASCAR family — because they are part of the NASCAR family too. We were proud to see so many stand up for what’s right,” he said (“NASCAR releases image,” 2020, para. 4-5).
NASCAR doesn’t typically receive much coverage on social media from accounts such as ESPN, but the sport received lots of attention throughout the investigation. ESPN’s Instagram account (2020) posted about NASCAR nine times between the flying of the Confederate flag over Talladega on June 21 and the release of the noose photo on June 25. Bleacher Report (2020) added twelve NASCAR-related posts between June 21 and June 26, and Sports Illustrated (2020) covered support for Wallace and the outcome of the FBI investigation with four posts between June 22 and June 23.
Media coverage of Bubba Wallace and NASCAR expanded further on July 6 after U.S. President Donald Trump (2020) called out Wallace on Twitter, saying that he should apologize for the “hoax” while criticizing NASCAR’s ratings following the Confederate flag ban, calling them the “lowest ratings EVER.”
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany defended the president. “What the president is making is a broader point that this rush to judgment, before the facts are out, is not acceptable,” she told Fox News’ Sandra Smith on July 6 (Owens, 2020, para. 5). McEnany then compared Wallace’s situation to that of Jussie Smollett, who was accused of staging a hate crime against himself in 2019 (Pereira, 2020). Jason Owens (2020) emphasizes the implications of this comparison, writing that “McEnany’s Smollett comparison implies that Wallace and his team orchestrated the incident as a hate crime” (para. 9). Steve Phelps has emphasized from the beginning that Wallace’s team had nothing to do with the noose. “I want to be clear about the 43 team: The 43 team had nothing to do with this” (“FBI says rope, 2020, para. 16), Phelps said on June 23.
The media came to the defense of Wallace and NASCAR after Trump’s claims. In response to the president’s claim that the noose was a hoax, Daniel Roberts (2020) responded, “There was no ‘hoax’—the sport merely responded to what looked at first like a hate crime—and Wallace never saw or reported the noose; it was found and reported by a member of his team” (para. 2). Trump’s claim that NASCAR’s ratings are plummeting is also false. According to Michael Mulvihill, the sport’s ratings on Fox networks are up 8 percent since its return from a shutdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic (“President Donald Trump,” 2020). Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Indianapolis, broadcast on NBC, had the largest viewership for an Xfinity race at that location since 2017 with nearly 1.7 million viewers (Pereira, 2020). The rating for Sunday’s Cup Series race was up 46 percent from last year’s race at Indianapolis (McCarriston, 2020).
Wallace responded to the tweet with a message “To the next generation and little ones following my foot steps” (Pereira, 2020, para. 8).
“You will always have people testing you. Seeing if they can knock you off your pedestal. I encourage you to keep your head held high and walk proudly on the path you have chosen . . . Always deal with the hate being thrown at you with LOVE! Love over hate every day. Love should come naturally as people are TAUGHT to hate. Even when it’s HATE from the POTUS… Love wins,” Wallace (2020) wrote on his Twitter page.
Audio company Beats by Dre announced a personal partnership with Wallace that night, according to NASCAR (“Bubba Wallace lands,” 2020). “We weren’t going to announce this until later this week, but hate cannot win the day. No one should ever be asked to apologize for standing up for what’s right — we are proud to welcome Bubba Wallace to the Beats by Dr. Dre family,” the company wrote on Twitter announcing the partnership (Beats by Dre, 2020).
Fellow Cup Series driver Tyler Reddick responded to Trump in a since-deleted tweet, saying, “We don’t need an apology. We did what was right and we will do just fine without your support” (“President Donald Trump,” 2020, para. 5).
Kevin Harvick also backed up Wallace on Golic and Wingo (2020), saying that “a misinformed tweet is not gonna change the unity and the direction of our sport and our garage, and the way that we feel about each other.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) agreed that Wallace had nothing to apologize for (Carney, 2020). “You saw the best in NASCAR,” Graham said in a Fox News Radio interview with Brian Kilmeade. “When there was a chance that it was a threat against Bubba Wallace, they all rallied to Bubba’s side. So I would be looking to celebrate that kind of attitude more than being worried about it being a hoax” (President Donald Trump,” 2020, para. 15).
The praise of NASCAR’s unity has been echoed since drivers and crews walked behind Wallace on June 22. Following the FBI investigation on June 23, Elijah Burke (2020) tweeted about how the findings shouldn’t “overshadow yesterday’s display of peace, love, and unity.” NFL analyst Mike Clay (2020) responded, emphasizing that the show of support for Wallace was “important and necessary.” The support of Wallace continued following the president’s tweet with Richard Petty Motorsports (2020) tweeting a simple graphic with the number 43 and the hashtag #IStandWithBubba.
Wallace collected his third top ten finish of the season at Indianapolis on Sunday, placing ninth (Holleran, 2020). He currently leads fan voting for the upcoming All-Star Race, which will take place on July 15 at Bristol Motor Speedway (Stone, 2020). The next Cup Series race, the Quaker State 400, will take place at Kentucky Speedway on Sunday, July 12, at 2:30 PM ET.
BarrVisuals. (2020, June 22). @BubbaWallace gets a late race push from @CoreyLaJoieafter running out of fuel during a late race caution during the GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. #NASCAR [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/BarrVisuals/status/1275243933749084166?s=20
beatsbydre. (2020, July 6). We weren’t going to announce this until later this week, but hate cannot win the day. No one should ever be asked to apologize for standing up for what’s right — we are proud to welcome @bubbawallace to the Beats by Dr. Dre family. [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/beatsbydre/status/1280283245465071622?s=20
Blaney. (2020, June 22). You’re my brother and always will be. Don’t let the people who are lower than life to try and bring you down. They won’t scare you because you’re strong. I stand with you pal. Forever. [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/Blaney/status/1275054984732774401?s=20
DougJones. (2020, June 22). We’re with you Bubba. The journey to racial justice has taken far too long. Keep your eyes on @bubbawallace at Talladega, keep that racist’s noose in your thoughts and ask: when will this end? Maybe Bubba can get us to that checkered flag a bit sooner. It’s time America. [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/DougJones/status/1275071653781725188?s=20
ESPNNFL. (2020, June 4). .@A_kamara6 rocking some @BubbaWallace gear on his way to his first-ever NASCAR race. Kamara live-tweeted a race on Wednesday, in direct response to the league banning the confederate flag and NASCAR extended him an invitation to Sunday’s race. (via @NASCAR) [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/ESPNNFL/status/1272212295884640257?s=20
GolicAndWingo. (2020, July 7). “A misinformed tweet is not gonna change the unity and the direction of our sport and our garage, and the way that we feel about each other.” -@KevinHarvick on the tweet that President Trump sent about NASCAR’s ratings and Bubba Wallace. [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/GolicAndWingo/status/1280496766555742210?s=20
KingJames. (2020, June 21). Sickening! @BubbaWallace my brother! Know you don’t stand alone! I’m right here with you as well as every other athlete. I just want to continue to say how proud I am of you for continuing to take a stand for change here in America and sports! @NASCAR I salute you as well! [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/KingJames/status/1274914521396604928?s=20
MikeClayNFL. (2020, June 23). Yes! We’re all glad the noose was a misunderstanding, but let’s not pretend like racism is solved. The show of support for Bubba through all this (including Monday) was important and necessary. #IStandWithBubba [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/MikeClayNFL/status/1275552791654813696?s=20
Rachel_Nichols. (2020, June 21). A few years ago @BubbaWallace was nice enough to take a couple minutes out to meet my family (they’ve been fans since he raced in the truck series). He’s the only NASCAR driver they ever wanted to meet, and he couldn’t have been kinder. We’re rooting for you Bubba; all of us. [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/Rachel__Nichols/status/1274926710643781632?s=20
realDonaldTrump. (2020, July 6). Has @BubbaWallace apologized to all of those great NASCAR drivers & officials who came to his aid, stood by his side, & were willing to sacrifice everything for him, only to find out that the whole thing was just another HOAX? That & Flag decision has caused lowest ratings EVER! [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1280117571874951170?s=20
After graduating from BGSU in the fall of 2018, Randy accepted an internship with the Marcus Graham Project, where he helped launch a pop-up advertising agency for the summer and worked as a brand manager on accounts such as Apple and Trailer Park. He currently works as an Assistant Account Manager at Rhea + Kaiser, a marketing communications agency.
June 20, 2020
While the Black Lives Matter movement was first started in 2013 in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman, who murdered Trayvon Martin, black lives haven’t mattered to America since the birth of the country. Systemic racism and the oppression of people of color have plagued America since the 17th century and the blatant inequality that exists is seemingly inconsequential to the majority, as we have yet to see true progress. “All lives matter” has been a common phrase used in response to the Black Lives Matter protests, and in an ideal world that statement would be true. However, it is impossible for all lives to matter until black lives do.
When will black lives matter to America?
I found myself asking this question in light of the recent murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, amongst others. As I began to reflect on the current state of the country, I became angered at the fact that innocent people who look just like me are continuously being killed for no reason, other than being black. But I became even more enraged at the fact that in 2020, we are still having the same conversations that have been had for the past century. This isn’t a new phenomenon; police brutality, racial violence and social injustice have beset the black community since the abolishment of slavery. In the past 100 years alone, we have witnessed the cyclical nature of history time and time again, as the outcries for help and justice by people of color have been essentially disregarded.
1921-Tulsa Race Riots
On May 31, 1921 Dick Rowland, a black teenager, was arrested in Tulsa, Oklahoma after being falsely accused of sexually assaulting a white woman on an elevator (Ellsworth, 2001). Rumors quickly spread of the allegations against Rowland and within less than 24 hours, white citizens burned over 1,000 houses and a number of black-owned businesses in the flourishing African-American community of Greenwood, also known as Black Wall Street. In addition to the destroying of property, over 100 people were killed as a result of the racially charged riot.
1930 – Thomas Shipp & Abram Smith
Thomas Shipp & Abram Smith were publicly lynched after being accused of murder, rape, and robbery. The two men were hung from a tree in front of a crowd of people after being brutally beaten (Kentake, 2015). A photo that captured the lynching was later sold as a postcard. No charges were ever brought against anyone who participated in the murders of Shipp and Smith.
1940 – Austin Callaway
In September of 1940, Austin Callaway was forcibly removed from his jail cell by a group of armed men. Callaway’s body was found the next morning in the middle of the road, where he died of multiple gunshot wounds (“Austin Callaway,” 2020). No one was ever arrested for Callaway’s murder. In fact, the police didn’t even investigate his death.
1955 – Lamar Smith
On August 13, 1955 Lamar Smith was gunned down on the steps of Lincoln County Courthouse in Brookhaven, Mississippi in front of nearly 40 people. The shooter was initially detained, but was later released and no charges were brought against him, even though there were multiple witnesses (Cortes, 2017).
1963 – Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, Virgil Lamar Ware
Shortly after the integration of public schools in Alabama, there were several bombings in Birmingham within less than two weeks that targeted African-Americans in the community. The third and most notorious bombing of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, left four young girls dead (“Birmingham bombing,” 2020). Following the church bombing, riots and violence broke out across the city. After leaving a segregationist rally, a group of white teenagers shot and killed 13-year-old Virgil Lamar Ware in cold blood, as he was riding his bike down the street.
1970 – Phillip Gibbs & James Earl Green
In an attempt to disperse student protesters at Jackson State University, a historically black college, police officers fired over 100 rounds of ammunition into a crowd, killing Phillip Gibbs and James Earl Green. There were no arrests made in connection to the murders (Wyckoff, 2010).
1983 – Michael Jerome Stewart
On September 15, 1983, Michael Stewart was arrested for drawing graffiti in a New York subway. Within less than an hour of his arrest, police brought Stewart to the hospital. Upon his arrival, Stewart had no pulse and had been severely beaten; he died 13 days later from his injuries (Nielson, 2013).
1991 – Rodney King
In 1991, a video captured four police officers brutally beating black motorist Rodney King for over 10 minutes after pulling him over. King suffered broken bones, brain damage, and other injuries as a result of the beating (Sastry & Bates, 2017). Although the video clearly showed a use of excessive force, all four officers were found not guilty.
2006 – Sean Bell
Sean Bell was killed by five undercover police officers as he was leaving his bachelor party. The officers fired a total of 50 shots at Bell and his friends, even though they were unarmed. All police officers involved in the shooting were acquitted of all charges (Johnson, 2019).
…Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Laquan McDonald, Walter Scott, Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray, Philando Castile, Terence Crutcher, Alton Sterling, Antwon Rose, Jordan Edwards, Jayson Negron, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks…
Do you see the trend here?
This is only a small list of black men and women who have been subject to police brutality and/or racial violence, and unfortunately that list is continuing to grow. Over the years there have been a countless number of black people who have been harassed, beaten, and killed simply because of their skin color, and often times the people responsible for committing these horrendous acts are not even held accountable.
Change is long overdue. Its unfathomable that we have to fight just to matter in America. We shouldn’t have to fight for equal opportunities. We are not animals; we are human beings and are deserving of the same rights as everyone else.
When will black lives matter to America?
The time for change is now. This isn’t just a black problem; this is a human problem. No matter your race, gender, age or sexual orientation, you have a voice and you have the power to make a difference. If you genuinely believe that all lives matter, don’t sit back and ignore the racism and social injustices that are ever-present in our society. Additionally, once the protests and media coverage cease, let’s not forget that these problems exist. Just because the headlines stop, that doesn’t mean the issues have been resolved. Persistence is imperative.
It’s impossible for all lives to matter until black lives do. Together, we can end the cycle and change the narrative.