Column: Protests slow to a crawl, but The Alliance hopes to continue progress
At the onset of the uprising following the deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, elected officials to grassroots leaders all said some version of, “This time it’s different.” It certainly felt that way with worldwide protests and Bubba Wallace challenging NASCAR to remove the Confederate flag.
However, a month or so later protest coverage has subsided. Monuments are being removed but the officers responsible for Taylor’s death still walk free. The NBA is in a bubble and Instagram models are lobbying to burst it.
This is the moment we’ve all been waiting for — when we see whether the country’s newfound passion for Juneteenth actually makes it to Kwanza. The leaders from Southern California’s 11 professional sports teams have decided to move forward.
The owners have set aside their differences — and egos — to form The Alliance, a five-year partnership with each other and two local initiatives — the Play Equity Fund and Accelerate Change Together. The purpose of The Alliance is for the teams to merge their considerable resources in an effort to aid underserved Black and Latino children through sports. And while each team will continue its individual philanthropic work in this area, there is a collective accountability. It’s not just a check and a lovely statement. It’s monitoring the program’s success by tracking items such as high school graduation rates, college admission and, more importantly, retention.
On the podium in Austria to celebrate his latest win, Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton raised a clenched right fist and spoke out against racism.
“We believe PE is a social justice issue,” said Renata Simril, president of LA84 and the person charged with leading the strategy. “Forty-two percent of LAUSD students are obese or overweight and there are a lot of reasons why. Funding is one. Lack of volunteers and mentors. Safe passage to playgrounds. This is all a hindrance to academic success.
“A lot of people are asking ‘what can I do to make a difference’ and I say join us,” she added. “We have a plan how to make real change and we can use all the resources we can get.”
LAFC president and owner Tom Penn said the main reason why things feel different this time is because they are.
“I sat at my wife’s insistence and watched the entire full-length [Floyd] video and she encouraged me to take that extra step because of the incredibly impactful nature of it, and I’m grateful she did,” Penn said.
“My initial response was total sadness. I cried. And obviously you get more and more angry as you watch. Then another big shift came the night of the eruption in the streets … We couldn’t just watch was happening and not get involved in a real meaningful way.“
For all of the hardship the COVID-19 pandemic has brought — from deaths to rampant unemployment and mental anguish — there is a good chance this level of racial reckoning doesn’t happen without all of the pain and loss. We had no choice but look in a mirror, something much of the nation has been avoiding for nearly 400 years. Think about it: the Confederacy lost the Civil War 150 years ago and Mississippi has finally decided to stop flying the symbol used to terrorize Black people.
“I think everybody comes at it from a different access point depending upon our prior experiences,” Dodgers co-owner Peter Guber said about the timing of The Alliance. “I don’t think it was one thing that made it it click for people. I think there were a lot of things that made it relevant and actionable to our living and meaning of our life. We’ve had problems before, all kinds, but now we have a promise and a process and hopefully they will create a product of success and purposeful change.”
A news conference is scheduled Tuesday with representatives from each team participating. And the Kings and Ducks are investing equal resources to the other teams, despite the NHL largely being left out of larger conversations regarding race, likely because of the make up of the sport. It’s not just because the athletes are predominantly white, it’s also the significant number of international players who may not have the same sensibilities as their domestic counterparts.
“As a league it’s important we take a step back and learn and listen,” Kings COO Kelly Cheeseman said. “The Hockey Diversity Alliance group have come together to educate and the Black Girl Hockey club has been hosting listening sessions for hockey fans. Racism is a huge society issue, but I know we have to clean up our own house first.”
Representing the Kings during the news conference will be recent hire Blake Bolden, the first Black woman in a scouting position in the NHL.
LeBron James is not worried about his health or concerned about the layoff. He has no fears his fight for social justice will get lost in the NBA title chase.
Guber said the formation of The Alliance was destined and when you consider Bolden’s hire came a week before the sports world shutdown, it makes sense. “Covid makes people feel very vulnerable,” he said. “It opened the hearts of people and they could hear and see things in a new light.”
Simril hopes the Alliance might serve as a blue print for franchises in other municipalities.
“It’s all about leveraging your resources and access to make a difference,” she said. “All of these teams have corporate sponsors and those relations can be leveraged to help people. Now is the for action, sustained action.”
Tim Harris, COO of the Lakers, agreed.
“Anyone who understands the scale of this issue know we’re not going to have one fix,” he said. “it’s going to be a series of small steps over and over. … Partnering with a group like Play Equity we’re not just throwing money at a problem and walking away. We’re committed. We have to be. It took us 400 years to get here we’re not going to get out of this overnight.”
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