By Scotty Reid
The ESPN beat writer for the Carolina Panthers reported today that team officials stopped their 1st round draft pick Shaq Thompson from speaking to reporters about his college paper on police brutality. It was just a tiny blurb among reports on team activities during training camp but it is very revealing about the Panthers organization’s feelings about the issue
David Newton reports,
More Shaq: One of Thompson’s final essays at Washington was on police brutality. His post-practice interview was cut off by Carolina public relations during follow-up questions.
It should not surprise anyone that Shaq Thompson would be concerned about an issue that is frequently dominating the news headlines given that citizens are utilizing technology to record police interactions with citizens. Apparently, he was so concerned about the issue he wrote a college paper on the subject. However, we do not know the details of his paper because Panther handlers prevented him from answering questions from the media on the subject.
Professional athletes today have been speaking out more on issues important to the communities they come from and have family still living in. After the shooting of death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO last year, a few St. Louis Rams players came out of the tunnel during the start of a game with their hands up in the air, a tribute to the police brutality demonstrators who had been chanting “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot”.
Lebron James participated in a silent demonstration with the rest of the Miami Heat players posing for a team picture with everyone wearing hoodies in a show of solidarity with those protesting the killing of Trayvon Martin whose killing was justified by news media personalities like Geraldo Rivera who demonized black boys who wear hoodies as criminals. James also spoke out against police brutality in relation to incidents in Cleveland.
Then there was the “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirt worn by Derrick Rose during shoot around activities before a Chicago Bulls basketball game protesting a New York grand jury’s decision not to indict the officer involved in killing of Eric Garner who was seen on video being choked to death by an NYPD officer using a banned chokehold.
However, although a former Charlotte cops is awaiting trial after being charged in the shooting death of an unarmed Jonathan Ferrell who was looking for help after his car accident, no professional athletes in North Carolina have ever spoken out on the issue.
According to the database killedbypolice.net, as of today, law enforcement officers have been involved in the deaths of 508 people in the United States. This is far more than any other industrialized nation that keeps such statistics but the number could be much higher given that police by law are not required to report officer involved deaths but merely advised to report cases to the federal government. As the database suggests, it makes no determination on whether or not the killings are justified but videos that are being uploaded to social media shows that unjustified killings by police are happening far too often and they are for the most part not being held accountable for their killings.
Athletes speaking out on social issues that affect their communities is nothing new but until recently rarely happens today. Athletes like Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul Jabbaar), Jim Brown and many others stood with their communities and spoke out publicly against racism during the fifties and sixties.
The Panther’s organization was criticized heavily for allowing its former defensive star Gregg Hardy to start the season while the legal process played out in the North Carolina courts when he was accused of domestic violence against his former girlfriend last year. Hardy now plays for the Dallas Cowboys. Charges would eventually be dropped after the alleged victim failed to show up in court because allegedly she got the pay day many say she was looking for. Owner Jerry Richardson took the criticism so hard that he made a tearful speech about how he did care about domestic violence something ironically individual police officers engage in against their partners at more than twice the national rate. Given this fact, it should be no surprise police are quick to resort to using excessive force with citizens. Don’t expect Richardson to shed any tears over police brutality.
The Panther’s reasoning for preventing Shaq Thompson from answering questions about his paper on police brutality can only be explained by the Panther’s organization but it is doubtful they will. It is also doubtful area reporters will do a follow up and attempt to get an answer. In the absence of an answer, it is logical to assume that the Panther’s organization does not care about the issue of police brutality running rampant in this country even though most of the players and their family members are statistically speaking, prime candidates to be killed by police.
The NBA while not making any major statements is quietly looking into the issue after one of its players had his leg broken by NYPD cops causing him to miss the playoffs for the Atlanta Hawks.
Professional athletes are human beings that have interest outside of playing sports. Many are involved in community projects in their hometowns, college towns and the cities they live and work in. They should not allow themselves to be silenced on social issues they care about and if they desire, should do everything in their power to address these issues whether they are popular with team ownership or not. Nothing says slaves more than allowing your voice to be silenced by someone because they sign your paycheck to play a game. Their loyalties should first be to their families and their communities. When Shaq Thompson or any athlete wants to lend their support or discuss a social issue important to them, they should do so because real life is bigger than any sport.
Update: Before being cut off by Panthers staff, Shaq Thompson said about police brutality, “Police brutality, I feel like that’s big … [There was] just a lot of police brutality back in the day and I felt that was something to write about and I could compare it to modern day society.”