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Sports figures take stand for racial justice amid nationwide protests

People gather with signs at the soccer fields

People gather with signs at the soccer fields protesting the death of George Floyd in Brentwood on Saturday. Credit: Kendall Rodriguez

Anders Lee is a white athlete who grew up in Edina, Minnesota. The Islanders captain has watched protests against racial inequality rage in the United States in the wake of a black man dying while being held down by a white police officer in nearby Minneapolis.

On Monday, Lee joined a growing list of professional athletes, coaches and leagues speaking up for racial justice.

“I will never fully understand because [of] the color of my skin but I have an opportunity to make a difference,” Lee said in a statement posted on his Twitter account. “I stand for anti-racism. I stand for the rights of black people in America, so we can all be equal. I stand alongside the black community through this difficult time and in the future. I stand for the justice of George Floyd and the countless others who have been killed by racism. Black Lives Matter.”

Floyd died in Minneapolis on May 25. He was in handcuffs and face down on a city street as police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck.

Rangers prospect K’Andre Miller, who was born in the Minneapolis suburb of Hopkins to a white mother and black father and who had racially derogatory comments hacked into a Zoom teleconference in April, also tweeted his support for Black Lives Matter on Monday.

“I struggle because I’ve never been fully accepted by either the black community or the white community,” said Miller, adding he was “targeted” because of his race in youth hockey. “It’s time to let black people be judged based on who we are not what we look like.”

The marches, both violent and peaceful, have been a daily occurrence since, as have the images of looting and fires burning in cities such as Philadelphia and Los Angeles.

Former Atlanta Braves’ great Dale Murphy said Sunday his son, Shawn, was hit in the eye by a rubber bullet while participating in a protest in Denver.

“His story is not unique,” Murphy tweeted. “Countless others have also experienced this use of excessive police force while trying to have their voices heard.”

Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said on his Instagram account he now understands the anger.

“A lot of people may claim these riots and acts of destruction are a terrible response,” Toews posted. “I’ll be the first to admit that as a white male that was also my first reaction. But who am I to tell someone that their pain is not real? I’m not condoning or approving the looting, but are we really going to sit here and say that peaceful protesting is the only answer? There has been plenty of time for that, and if it was the answer we would’ve given it our full attention long ago.”

Miami Marlins CEO Derek Jeter, who shared few opinions as Yankees captain, pulled no punches in a statement released via Twitter on Monday.

“This is a narrative that has happened far too often with us as people of color,” Jeter said. “It is time for racial hatred to end and to be unquestionably recognized and responded to with severe punishment. It is encouraging to see people of all colors around the world speaking out and protesting another human tragedy that has too often been the death of a black person. No one should be excused from acts of racial hatred. Please do not allow anyone to demonize those who are standing up against these acts.”

Giancarlo Stanton, traded to the Yankees from the Marlins by Jeter, tweeted out this weekend, “Enough is Enough. It’s going to take everyone to help this system change.” Mets’ hurler Marcus Stroman, from Medford, tweeted this weekend that racism is “thriving” in the U.S. and those who turn a blind eye are “part of the problem.”

Mets teammate Pete Alonso posted earlier this weekend on his Instagram account, “To anyone who faces this type of discrimination, I will fight for you and be an ally.”

On Monday, the Mets tweeted, “Queens, NY is one of the most diverse areas in our country. We take pride in our diversity. It is our strength. That is why we denounce all forms of racism and discrimination…We hope to be a part of positive change in our society.”

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson said he feared for the lives of children.

“I remember my dad and grandfather telling me vivid stories of the 50s and 60s regarding the brutal acts of violence inflicted upon blacks,” Wilson said in a statement. “It seems that we have been thrust back to those horrific events all over again in 2020. The reality is the past has never left us.

“We need true leadership. We need justice. We need equality.”

Many players have accused NFL commissioner Roger Goodell of hypocrisy after his statement on Saturday that, “The protesters’ reactions to these incidents reflect the pain, anger and frustration that so many of us feel.” Quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s career was effectively ended once he began kneeling during the national anthem as a silent protest against racial inequality.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, in a memo to league personnel this weekend, said he was “heartened” by league and WNBA personnel “speaking out to demand justice, urging peaceful protest and working for meaningful change,” and pledged to continue the NBA’s efforts to “promote inclusion and bridge divides.”

The Brooklyn Nets, the New York Liberty and Barclays Center issued a joint statement this weekend that “Enough is enough.”

Nets interim coach Jacque Vaughn, Knicks interim coach Mike Miller and former Knicks coach David Fizdale were among those who attached their name to a statement from the National Basketball Coaches’ Association saying, “The events of the past few weeks — police brutality, racial profiling and the weaponization of racism are shameful, inhumane and intolerable.”

On Monday, ESPN reported the coaches’ association had established a committee on racial injustice and reform that included Fizdale.

Former Knick Enes Kanter, now with the Boston Celtics, participated in a protest in that city on Sunday night. He wore his green, No. 11 Boston jersey and chanted, “I can’t breathe,” echoing what Floyd said as he was held down.

Former Knick Patrick Ewing, now the Georgetown coach and recovering from COVID-19, tweeted on Monday, “We have a responsibility and a platform to speak out against racism and injustice. We will not be silent. We will not ignore senseless violence and brutality. We will be part of the solution.”

The NHL issued a statement late on Sunday declaring the league stood, “with all those who are working to achieve a racially just society and against all those who perpetuate and uphold racism, hated, bigotry and violence.”

The Islanders issued statements on Monday endorsing the stances by both the NHL and Lee.

“We condemn racism and injustice and stand with all affected by senseless violence,” the Islanders said. “We must come together, treating each other with empathy, dignity, and respect…To the brave officers who go to work every day seeing the human being and not the color of one’s skin, we thank you for protecting us.”

Tiger Woods tweeted Monday night: “I have always had the utmost respect for our law enforcement. They train so diligently to understand how, when and where to use force. This shocking tragedy clearly crossed that line.”

He also said: “We can make our points without burning the very neighborhoods we live in. I hope that through constructive, honest conversations we can build a safer, unified society.”

Notable quotes

“I will never fully understand because [of] the color of my skin but I have an opportunity to make a difference. I stand for anti-racism. I stand for the rights of black people in America, so we can all be equal."— Anders Lee

“This is a narrative that has happened far too often with us as people of color. It is time for racial hatred to end and to be unquestionably recognized and responded to with severe punishment." — Derek Jeter

“Enough is Enough. It’s going to take everyone to help this system change.” — Giancarlo Stanton

“To anyone who faces this type of discrimination, I will fight for you and be an ally.” — Pete Alonso

“We have a responsibility and a platform to speak out against racism and injustice. We will not be silent." — Patrick Ewing

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