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“Sport, Racism and Social Justice” looks at how sports and social justice can evolve together in the future

By Mike Manning

In the heart of Springfield College’s newly introduced SEAT at the Table event, Mara Simon predicated her Thursday afternoon workshop to, “explore the ideas of sport, racism, and social justice.”

Simon, an Assistant Physical Education Professor, opened up her session to over 120 attendees. Her first activity encouraged those to fill up a jam board with pictures that came to mind when they hear “sports and social justice.”

“I really just wanted to create a visual representation of what we might think about when we’re thinking about sport and social justice,” Simon said.

Photos of protests from Colin Kaepernick, the 1968 Olympics, the NBA, and more poured onto the screen, and within moments, the jam board locked shut due to the amount of people participating at one time.

Following her introduction, Simon presented statistics showing the disproportion between the number of black athletes compared to coaches and owners. She then asked the audience for an interpretation of the numbers.

Breaking the silence all the way from Milwaukee, Terry Warren, a Springfield alum in his 60’s, responded to the numbers with a surprised, “wow!”

“That’s a lot more than I ever knew before, there were no black coaches at the professional level in the NBA and the NFL for the majority of my childhood, my teenage life, and my young adulthood,” Warren said.

Warren explained that there have been improvements, but the statistics still show how far leagues remain from equality.

Focusing specifically on black athletes, Simon explained that she would be using a number of video clips to detail their experiences, so, “rather than a white woman talking about black athletes, we’ll let black athletes talk for themselves.”

Simon shared bits from interviews and documentaries about athletes like Jack Johnson, a prolific boxer from the early 1900s, and Mamie ‘Peanut Johnson,’ the first black women to pitch in the negro leagues, to highlight their influence.

In her next segment, Simon wound the clock back to the 1968 Summer Olympics showing the famous photo of Tommie Smith and John Carlos giving the black power salute.

“They wore no shoes to symbolize poverty, they unzipped their jackets to stand with the working class, they wore beads to protest lynching, and then they had their fists raised to signify black power,” Simon said, detailing the symbolism that came from this protest.

“I think it’s important to also be aware that they were faced immediately with consequences that were swift and severe.”

Relating historical events to current day examples, Simon spent time talking about Colin Kaepernick and his 2016 National Anthem protest.

The unity that came from the protest was Simon’s first example stemming from the quarterbacks action. Showing the empowering Nike advertisement encouraging people to dream for the sky, Simon received multiple smiles, head nods and thankful comments.

In contrast to the inspiring reaction, a segment from Fox News was showcased which included videos of people burning and cutting Nike products. This video was cut short by Simon, reason being, “none of us want to hear any more of that.”

Looking for a response to Simon’s discussion question for why Senator Kelly Loefller would call for having, “less politics in sports,” Jennifer Dashiell-Shoffner gave a passionate response.

“My frustration comes in when they say things like, ‘shut up and dribble,’ and tell athletes, ‘I don’t want to hear these things I came to see sports.’ But my number one thing I keep saying is that they’re tax payers and they’re voters,” Dashiell-Shoffner said.

“It just amazes me that because people have a certain position in entertainment that they’re only expected to do that thing, but if you go into small communities and college campuses’ everyone is told to vote.”

Dashiell-Shoffner’s insightful perspective led Simon to the conclusion of her session.

Talking about the potential for social change, Simon explained that athletes can use their platform to promote that change. She explained how black athletes are valued as athletes, and not as human beings.

Warren again added to the conversation by giving his solution to that problem. Stating that the owners are under the illusion that they are the ones in power, yet it’s the athletes who generate power.

“We are empowered to be able to speak our minds. Whether you want to hear it or not. And if you don’t like it, there will be a consequence. We. Won’t. Play!”

Simon’s discussion helped reinforce that while it’s not currently there, sports can be a place where social justice can be achieved.

Graphic Courtesy of Jack Margaros

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