“As I sit here on the eve of one of the greatest sporting events that we have in sports … race and what’s going on comes again.”—Lebron James
One of the most anticipated showdowns has come and gone. We’ve chosen sides, and with exacerbated angst, we have watched grueling head-to-heads, seeing two teams survive a head-on collision.
In both teams, we find our hopes and dreams for greatness, we celebrate talent and relish in victory. We hear once again the “sideline coaches” quoting stats verbatim, analyzing years’ worth of film, predicting the outcome of a glorious battle on the court that is determined more by the heart of the team than by the skill of the players.
But this battle, this championship, this NBA Finals was overshadowed. Something far less glorious and far more sinister took the court.
Lebron James sat down at a press conference to talk about basketball, but the first question he had to answer was that of race. The security gate that guards his Los Angeles home was violated with the word “NIGGER” spray-painted across its surface. This gate, while it protected his family from intruders, could not protect Lebron, his family, nor this country from a far more powerful intruder.
Once again, racism
Instead of opening the press conference with questions about team preparedness, strategy or even competitive banter, we had to endure roughly three minutes of the race conversation. Once again, racism overshadowed one of our favorite pastimes.
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My initial reaction was anger and frustration at the idea that racism stole the limelight from the NBA Finals. I have since had time to process these events and have determined it is not racism that interrupted the NBA Finals, but the NBA Finals served as a distraction from the issue of racism.
The fact we are upset that racism interrupts our fun is an indication we have our priorities mix up. However, there are few and far in between who notice we expend more energy trying to hide racism than we do actually grappling with this pressing issue. The common concern is not for eradicating racism, but for racism to stop interrupting our comforts, as if conversations around race have no business popping up in our sports, our education, our politics and our churches. In fact, it seems the common consensus is we have moved past racism, save for a few strongholds that make us look bad.
What this year’s NBA Finals taught us is that racism rears its ugly head anywhere and everywhere. Racism did not steal the thunder of the finals. Rather, the finals served as a distraction to the real problem of this country. Much like the gladiatorial events of ancient Rome served as a distractor away from the constant and costly wars, the heavy taxes, the immense poverty and the low national morale, we seek gladiatorialesque opportunities to silence conversations around race.
However, this country and this world have a funny way of making us come back to the conversation.
The race conversation is not the distraction; it is the pervasive problem we all seek to hide. This is the hard truth we must understand—we have designed a society that actively seeks to run away from its perpetual sin. We find other problems deemed more important and hide behind the adrenaline rush of action-packed sports filled with players who constantly combat racial stereotypes yet are told to be quiet because they are lucky to be paid millions.
We find ways to veto the voice of the dissenting because, after all, this is sports, not politics. There is no room to talk about race, only to enjoy the game.
But when will we actually turn our attention to the problem at hand? When will we reveal the true nature of our love for sports, news, politics and the like? Our love for these spheres of influence are but distractions, used to delegitimize the problem of race in our country.
In particular, sports has a troubling history of not only segregation, but also the classic “we’ve been good to you people” line of reasoning. For sure a micro-aggression, this logic falsely asserts that because a person of color reaches a certain level of economic, educational or professional achievement, their race and racism no longer apply to them. And where it does, it never should be spoken of in the public square.
In fact, “privileged” minorities never should bite the hand that feeds them. This logic asserts the benevolence of whiteness to the seemingly helpless minority. What arrogance to suppose that money earned and talent used is a gift from benevolent patrons whose primary stipulation is that you remain silent when racism rears its ugly head.
But we are called to speak truth to power, to use whatever talents and tools we have to raise into the consciousness of the culture the primary moral problem.
Let us be honest with one another: Everything from sports recruiting to environmental issues intersects America’s age-old problem with race. Muhammad Ali, Jackie Robinson, Jessie Owens, Serena Williams, Gabby Douglas, Lebron James, Colin Kaepernick, the University of Missouri football team, and many unnamed and forgotten others all have a single common problem. The thread of racism continually bombards their lives, despite their high level of achievement, and the suffocating thread of benevolent whiteness seeks also to guilt them into submission.
But the refrain from the likes of Lebron James and others is the voice of righteousness to a perverse world. They collectively say, “You must deal with this racist past and present, and deal with it now.”
Appeal of God
This is the appeal of God, who continually calls for us to confront our sins. God will not allow our distractions, our gladiatorial events to distract us from the real problem. God continually sends unlikely mouthpieces, suffering servants, unwavering voices their talents to speak to the pain of oppressed people.
The NBA Finals distracted us again, at least as best it could. Once again, we were frustrated at the insertion of race into one of our favorite distractions—I mean pastimes.
I don’t want to be distracted by the games I love. I want to be captured by righteousness wherever it manages to fight through the distractions. My hope is that we all begin to look with fresh eyes and hear with fresh ears the movement and voice of God when he is getting our attention.
Dante Wright is pastor of Sweet Home Baptist Church—known as the Pinnacle of Praise—in Round Rock.