Black History is American History: Sports And Social Justice

During the taping for the Yahoo event Black History is American History NFL player and best selling author Sam Acho along with ESPN host Elle Duncan discuss how the sports world has handled the social justice spotlight.

Video Transcript

KRISTIN MYERS: Our next question comes to us from a video submitted by Kevin Durand, and it has to do with the sports world.

KEVIN DURAND: It feels like sports have constantly been in the crosshairs of the social justice conversation. Why is this? And how do you feel players, teams, and leagues have been handling the spotlight?

KRISTIN MYERS: All right, so, Elle, you're already smiling. You cover the sports world for a living. Let's go to you first for answering that question.

ELLE DUNCAN: Well, first of all, that was such a deep fake. I thought you said Kevin Durant. I was like, oh, he joined? Great, what's he going to ask?

KRISTIN MYERS: I did a hard "D" because I knew people at home were going to think the same thing.

ELLE DUNCAN: I was like, oh my god. I'm sure that guy gets it all the time. Yeah, I mean, I think to answer Kevin's question, the reason that they're in the crosshairs is quite a bit is because of white privilege. They want sports to serve as a distraction, right? And unfortunately, for most people of color, for Black people in particular, there is no distraction from what's happening in our country and in our climate. I would say that it was, you know, it's-- I feel really torn about it. I was very optimistic after George Floyd died and there was sort of this idea that we-- like everyone finally understood, at least the corporations and the places that we worked at that were like, you know what? Enough, like yes, like we need to talk about these things.

Because this is wrong and awful. And we have now the entire country watching. And I think that the pandemic really set up this set of circumstances that allowed us all to sit at home and really do some introspecting. And I do think there was no sports. So there was no distraction.

Everything went away. We were forced to confront this ugly thing about our country that so many of us knew and experience and had been screaming for years and decades and generations. And finally, it felt like we had a bit of an ear, even though for many of us we felt like we didn't know how long that era would last.

I would say that the teams are doing that the best they can in some regards. I think the NBA has probably done the best job, the WNBA. Those women have been on the forefront of speaking out about socioeconomic issues, social justice issues for years and years and years.

But for me, it's not about some of these platitudes. It's not just about what you're putting on your jersey or what you're putting on the field. It's not these PSAs while you're watching the Super Bowl where they can sort of get in and out and dip their toe in social justice waters and bounce. It's about the commitment to their communities, you know? It's about making sure that they understand sort of the pain points in their communities and how they can be more involved.

It's about working with Black vendors. It's about making sure that you are as represented behind the scenes as you are on the field. And so those things are going to take a lot of time, frankly. This is not something-- we're not going to be able to do an accountability check in one year, in one season and say like, how are we doing now?

Like these things are systemic and as such means that it's going to require years and years and years of thoughtful approaches to how we change some of these things. But I'd say that we had a pretty good start. I hate that a man had to lose his life for that reason, multiple people had to lose their life for that reason because I don't think it was just George Floyd. I think it was Ahmaud Arbery. I think it was Breonna Taylor.

The culmination all three of those things happening in a few months and the epidemic that really caused people to stop. But I would say that years from now is when we're going to sort of see whether these leagues held themselves to the standards that they seem to claim they're going to.

KRISTIN MYERS: OK, Sam, let's go over to you. Elle is saying that the NBA is doing this the best. What's your thoughts on how the NFL is handling it?

SAM ACHO: Yeah, I believe the NFL has a long way to go. But I will say this. Some of the pictures that we saw flashing on our screens, the players locking arms and taking knees, those are my friends. Those are my teammates. Those are players from communities that essentially people have turned their backs on. 80% of the NFL, of the players in the NFL are Black.

And so to the question, of why does it seem like-- to KD's question, Kevin Durand's question of why does it seem like the athletic world and the justice world always intertwine? The reason is that so many of the people who you see on these fields, on these courts, in these communities are from the communities that have had their backs turned on. And so what we're seeing now is players saying, I have to do something.

We always talk about look at Master P. Master P has made it in so many ways. But Master P doesn't just make it for himself. Master P makes it for the next man. Elle has made it in so many ways. But Elle, as you heard, didn't make it for herself. She made it for the next young woman.

And even Kim, right, I'm in Chicago right now. Talk about Cabrini-Green, right? Kim made it. Kim made it. But she's not sitting there and amassing as much wealth and power as she can. She's doing it for the next person.

Because she understands what it's like to be a Black kid in a community where people may have not cared about you or forgotten about you. And let's not be mistaken, not all Black kids are from the same communities. We all grew up in different environments and different communities.

But as Elle mentioned earlier, even if you step off that court or off that field, you're still Black, you're still Black. No one's looking at the jersey. No one's looking at the helmet. You're still Black. And so you still have to walk through life a little bit differently than everyone else.

And that's why you look at Master P in the profitability space, in the business space doing his thing, Elle changing the game in the sportscasting field, and then Kim taking it to the court and saying, this is what we can do. Even me and my teammates, we started a nonprofit, called it Athletes for Justice. Because to Elle's point, we know that the arc of justice is not a one-year or two-year thing. It's a long arc. And so we're saying, what if we could combine players, coaches, owners, leagues from all the different-- and corporations as well.

Let's not forget about businesses, right, what drives America, from all the different cities where all the different teams play. And what if we could build something? What if we can go back into our communities and make substantive change-- not just a shirt, not just a jersey. And I'll end with this, Diamond DeShields, she plays for the Chicago Sky. She's a WNBA player. Just to Elle's point, her and some of her colleagues in the WNBA said, we're going to change the vote, right?

So they said, OK, there's an owner from one of our teams who we believe is, the long and short of it is racist. And it's not OK. It doesn't make sense. What if we found a way to not only to use our power on the court to make change in our communities, but in other communities. Let's go and have people show up and vote, vote for whoever you want to vote for, but show up and vote.

What if we said, hey, we demand more accountability from our ownership? I love the NFL, right? I played it for nine years. I was super successful. I'm glad about that. But the issue is, you look at the coaches in the NFL and there's only three Black coaches in the NFL. That's an issue. That's a problem. And so, obviously, serving, you know, on the NFL Players Association Executive Committee, I'm hoping to try and make some changes in these areas.

But there are issues that need to be resolved. And to your question, Kristin, we have a long way to go. But I'm hopeful because people are actually at the table willing to make a change.