Attempting to stay in bounds

It has been nearly a month since Colin Kaepernick was first noticed for sitting out the national anthem. Many thought that his gesture and stance would be talked about for a few days and like many other things would fade. But Kaepernick’s movement has done everything but that.

INDIANA FEVER

On Wednesday, the WNBA’s Indiana Fever became the first professional sports team to take on the protest. Prior to its playoff game against the Phoenix Mercury, which eventually won the game, the entire team took a knee and linked arms during the national anthem. They were even joined by two Mercury players Mistie Bass and Kelsey Bone.

This isn’t the first time that a WNBA team has spoken out either. In July, prior to Kaepernick, players for the Minnesota Lynx, New York Liberty, Fever and Mercury players wore T-shirts with messages seeking change following the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling.

TEXAS YOUTH FOOTBALL TEAM

The movement has gained many supporters at the high school and youth level. Unfortunately these athletes aren’t immune to the backlash that comes with being involved in such a high-profile protest.

A youth football team is receiving death threats after deciding as a team to take a knee prior to a game on Sept. 11 in Beaumont, Texas. The decision to protest was brought up by the children ages 11-12 and was supported by the coaches and parents. According to a mother whose son is on the team, online comments have said their “coaches and players should be lynched. They should have burned in 9/11. There are people who are saying the n-word.”

Some say the kids don’t know what they are kneeling for, but these kids aren’t blind to what is going on around the country.

On Tuesday, Kaepernick came out saying that he has received death threats.

“To me, if something like that were to happen, you’ve proved my point and it will be loud and clear for everyone why it happened and that would move this movement forward at a greater speed than what it is even now,” Kaepernick said. “Granted, I don’t want that to happen, but that’s the realization of what could happen, and I knew there were other things that came along with this when I first stood up and spoke about it. That’s not something I haven’t thought about.”

How is this right? You may not agree with Kaepernick’s and others motives or methods, but when is it ever OK to threaten someone’s life because of it? People making death threats to Kaepernick and anyone else who have knelt in support of him are only fueling the fire.

CAM NEWTON

During a press conference Wednesday night, the Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton fielded questions regarding racial issues despite normally being hesitant. His comments came a day after the fatal shooting of Keith L. Scott in Charlotte, North Carolina, which sparked protests throughout the city.

“We all have to hold each other accountable,” Newton said. “I’m a firm believer of justice. I’m a firm believer of doing the right thing. And I can’t repeat it enough of just holding people accountable. … I am not happy with what or how the justice has been kind of dealt with over the years.”

Newton has not joined the Kaepernick movement, but he is the latest NFL player to come forward and make a statement regarding the need for change. During the press conference he asked the same question that Kaepernick did in one of his first interviews: how do police on a leave of absence still get paid?

The reigning NFL MVP has commented on social issues before and knows the backlash that often comes with it. He called the place that he stands along with many other athletes a lose-lose.

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The Right to Sit

Before the Niners’ preseason game on Aug. 26 against the Green Bay Packers, Colin Kaepernick chose not to stand for the national anthem. Since then his name has been in news headlines and he is trending on Twitter.

What is the problem with choosing not to stand? The No. 1 argument is that it is disrespectful to our county, our flag and our military. But there is no law saying that U.S. citizens are required to stand when the “Star-Spangled Banner” is played. We aren’t the only country who stands when their national anthem is played. When other countries’ anthems are played, we are taught to stand out of a sign of respect. But what happens when that country isn’t respecting its citizens? Does that country still deserve a standing ovation?

Kaepernick chose not to stand for the national anthem because he believes that America isn’t living up to what it was founded on.

“Ultimately, it’s to bring awareness and make people realize what is really going on in this country,” Kaepernick said following the game. “There are a lot of things going on that is unjust, people aren’t being held accountable, and that is something that needs to change. This country stands for freedom, liberty and justice for all and that’s not happening right now.”

The main issue I’ve come to find from people who aren’t happy with Kaepernick’s stance is that it disrespects the military. Well, that’s not true. By choosing not to stand for the national anthem you are not disrespecting the U.S. military, you are exercising the very right that men and women in uniform have served and sacrificed for.

The First Amendment specifically states the right to freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom to peaceably assemble. It is this amendment and the remainder of the constitution that our military is fighting for. They fight so that we all have the right to do what Kaepernick chose to do. If you don’t believe me, check out #VeteransForKaepernick.

In his Donkey of the Day segment, Charlamagne tha God chose Kaepernick as his Aug. 29 donkey. And in that radio segment he brought up a good point, the flag represents a system and America is a business — “like any place of employment, when you promise your employees certain rights and don’t deliver, those employees have the right to speak out and demand what is promised.”

Kaepernick is demanding what the United States of America has promised ALL of its citizens because now not ALL of us are receiving those so-called promises.

Kaepernick is one of several athletes who have spoken out on the issues of police brutality and the system of racism that still exists in this country. But there is something that separates Kaepernick from the ESPY speech of Carmello Anthony, Lebron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Paul. There is something that sets Kaepernick apart from all the rest. He is forcing you to take a side, forcing you to acknowledge that there needs to be some real change.

I think what many people need to ask themselves regarding the controversy — are you upset because he isn’t standing or are you upset with his reasoning for not standing? If the issue is solely with him not standing then, heads up, it is not an act of patriotism if we “need” to stand and if standing is the requirement you aren’t being patriotic for doing so. If your problem with Kaepernick’s stance is in regards to what he is standing for, then you are un-American for thinking that not all of America’s citizens deserve the same treatment and the same rights. If you think that all of America’s citizens receive the same treatment and the same rights, then you are blind.

In his op-ed to the Washington Post, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar voiced his support for Kaepernick and called his act highly patriotic, “What should horrify Americans is not Kaepernick’s choice to remain seated during the national anthem, but that nearly 50 years after (Muhammad) Ali was banned from boxing for his stance and Tommie Smith and John Carlos’s raised fists caused public ostracization and numerous death threats, we still need to call attention to the same racial inequities.” Ali, Smith, and Carlos are all black athletes who were once considered controversial for their protests but have since become iconic symbols of the U.S. civil rights movement.

I guess the real question is should we as a country celebrate how far we’ve come in regards to equality or continue to work toward improvement because we still have a long way to go? For me, we must continue to work on it and, because of that, I will continue to sit alongside Kaepernick on this one.

 

Now is not the time to ‘stick to sports’

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Opening comments by Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwayne Wade, and Lebron James. Photo credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Last night was the ESPY Awards, and it solidified itself as my favorite awards show by not doing what some say it should have done — “stick to sports.” I used to use sports as my shield from the events that were going on around me. It’s easy to forget the troubles in the world when baseball’s All-Star week is happening.

It took me moving around the United States and traveling the world in the last two years for me to finally open my eyes. Today sports are no longer a wall keeping me in, and I’m learning just how valuable of a platform they can be. Part of my desire to become a journalist is the ability to enlighten and educate, but also the reach that one can have with readers and viewers. The reach as a journalist though doesn’t compare to the reach of lets say Carmelo Anthony.

Anthony, LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Paul took the stage Wednesday night to open the ESPYs with a very important message.

“The racial profiling has to stop,” Wade said. “The shoot-to-kill mentality has to stop. Not seeing the value of black and brown bodies has to stop. But also the retaliation has to stop. The endless gun violence in places like Chicago, Dallas, not to mention in Orlando, it has to stop.”

Based off Twitter, not everyone was happy with the basketball stars’ opening statements. Some even went as far as saying they lost respect for the athletes, and to that I say shame on you. Athletes rarely take stands on issues because by doing so they are putting their brands on the line. For them speaking out can be a calculated decision.

Following the shootings last week, Anthony knew he had to say something, but he carefully thought out what that was going to be. When he approached his friends about making a statement at the awards. it took him days to figure out what exactly he wanted or rather needed to say.

The NBA stars aren’t the first to speak out about recent events. On Saturday, members of the Minnesota Lynx WNBA team wore T-shirts in solidarity of all recent events, and they too received an extreme backlash.

Unfortunately these players can no longer afford to be silent. It’s not a political statement for these athletes; as people of color they are affected regardless of the fact that they are professional athletes.

“There’s NO more sitting back and being afraid of tackling and addressing political issues anymore. Those days are long gone,” Anthony wrote in an Instagram post under the iconic photo from the 1967 Muhammad Ali Summit.

I have always felt that athletes have the responsibility to stand up and use their reach. Some of my favorite athletes are the ones that do so despite the repercussions. In an op-ed for The Guardian, Anthony calls for his fellow athletes to use their platform and their influence. While you may not agree with what they stand for today, don’t persecute them; one day you might want them to stand with you on something else.

The opener by the NBA ensemble wasn’t the only issue to be tackled Wednesday night. Breanna Stewart, the winner of the Best Female Athlete Award, as well as Abby Wambach, Icon Award winner, spoke out about gender equality.

And there wasn’t a dry eye in the crowd after 15-year-old Zaevion Dobson was honored with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award posthumously. His mother, Zenobia Dobson, called for the country “to take a stand to consider the effects of gun violence on the families throughout America.” Dobson was the first of two minors from his family to be killed due to gun violence within the last year.

When Damage leads to Success

Almost seven years have passed since female sportscaster Erin Andrews made her spotlight debut. Unfortunately for her and for aspiring women in sports, her debut wasn’t a positive one. On July 16, 2009, a video of Andrews where she appeared completely nude was posted online and quickly went viral.

I can remember when it all first went down. As a sophomore in high school and an aspiring sports journalist, I could only feel sorry for Andrews. I had been told over and over again how tough it is for women in the industry and this seemed to be making things worse.

There were debates on whether it was a publicity stunt. There were people saying it was another reason why women should not be in the industry.

The video was filmed by Michael David Barrett with a cellphone through a hotel peephole at the Nashville, Marriott adjacent to Vanderbilt University. Barrett was arrested in October 2009 and was sentenced to 30 months in prison. He has already served over two years.

Prior to the incident, if someone had dropped Andrews’ name I would have been like, “Who?”

Since the video’s release Andrews’ career has taken off. Before the video, people described her as the blonde girl on ESPN; after the video everyone knew who Andrews was.

The idea that it was all a publicity stunt followed Andrews for a while via the media. But even when the news forgets, people do not. When reporting from the sidelines there are still men who yell down at her, “I’ve seen your video! I saw you naked!”

In October 2015, Andrews filed a complaint against the Nashville Marriott and Barrett for $75 million. The hearing began on Feb. 22, and on March 7 the jury awarded Andrews $55 million. The jury found Barrett to be 51 percent at fault and the Nashville Marriott 49 percent at fault.

When I heard that the jury went in favor of Andrews, I could not be happier for her. But at the same time I can’t help but feel for her because once again she is the topic of conversation and not in a fully positive light.

There were comments on articles saying that the two parties should not have to pay because she did not suffer any damages. There were comments saying she abused the system. Comments saying she should be thankful that someone thought she was hot enough to go to those lengths.

“Her career skyrocketed, her career went up, so from our perspective, none of the benchmarks that would indicate a serious mental injury existed,” Marc Redman said after the verdict.

Redman is a lawyer for the two companies that owned the hotel at the time.

My question to the lawyers of the hotel companies: Would you have preferred Andrews to let everything she worked so hard for disappear?

I was never a big Andrews fan. When I would tell people I wanted to be a sports reporter, they’d ask, “Like Erin Andrews?” And I would always reply with no. But her strength through everything that happened, staying in the business, charging forward and not letting all the comments get to her, at least not in the public eye, made my respect level soar.

Women in the sports industry walk an extremely thin line. We need to be extra cautious of our actions and our words. We need to constantly be on our A game.

Andrews may never get the $55 million, but that isn’t what matters. The result of this lawsuit represents assault victims alike. It can hopefully help Andrews heal. And most of all it will hopefully act as a benchmark so that future incidents never happen.

Under the Radar

Unless you are the sports fan constantly refreshing the sports news page on Google, there is probably quite a bit of information, issues and events that you are missing. If it’s something huge, I can count on social media to let me know of its happenings, but some of the most interesting stories are oftentimes left out of my news feed.

ENGLAND PROVIDES AN EXTRA PUSH

One issue that I had to do some searching for and finally found in small print on ESPN.com is that pressure to change the name of the Washington Redskins continues to grow, now internationally. In a letter dated Feb. 2, two members of British Parliament voiced their concern with the name of the team to the National Football League. At the minimum the letter calls for the NFL to send a different team to play in London later this year. Washington is set to play Cincinnati on Oct. 30 at Wembley Stadium.

The issue with the team name has to do with the historical derivation of the team’s mascot. England currently has the strictest anti-racism laws in sports. Clubs at every level in the county run the risk of being heavily fined or banished from their respective leagues for any deemed violations.

Here in America, more than 30 national Native American organizations have spoken out against the team name.

“Sport has the rare ability to act as a unifying force in the world, yet the use of the Washington team name is inherently divisive,” Parliament members Ruth Smeeth and Ian Austin said in the letter’s conclusion. “It is both puzzling and alarming the NFL is choosing to export this controversy to Britain.”

This backlash in regards to Washington’s name from an international community that has really started to take hold of America’s most popular sport could be the extra push the NFL and other sports leagues need to get rid of names deemed racist.

ESPN’S BIAS COULD CAUSE A CHANGE

Being the huge Big Ten fan that I am, any headline that mentions the conference is an automatic read for me. On SB Nation — The Crimson Quarry, I came across an article titled, “Could ESPN’s marginalization of college basketball push the Big Ten away?”

The author of the article, Ben Raphel, discusses the topic in a two-part series. The first part is what caught my attention. He shines light on the way that members of the conference, in particular the Indiana Hoosiers, feel shafted by the so-called world-wide leader in sports.

Since my time at Michigan State University began in the fall of 2011, this conversation topic came up more times than I can count. With my fellow sport journalism majors, it felt like a daily discussion. It usually corralled around football considering the SEC gets more than its fair share of coverage. Granted it has provided the national champion the most times in recent years and sends the most players to the NFL, but college football definitely does not center on the SEC.

Currently the issue is with basketball. The funny part about this is that the SEC is not a dominant basketball conference and never really has been. But this entire season ESPN has been hanging on every little thing LSU forward Ben Simmons has done. Despite LSU being 16-12, not in the top 25 and having just experienced a loss by 20 to Arkansas, it’s surprising that the team is getting more airtime than Kobe Bryant and his farewell tour.

The SEC has two teams in the AP top 25 whereas the Big 12 is the leader with six teams and the Big Ten follows with five. And yet Kentucky gets more airtime than both because of its famous one-and-done performances.

The Big Ten’s TV contract is up after the 2016-17 season, and with the giant amounts of shade that the conference feels ESPN is throwing its way, that could lead it to look into other possibilities.

Double Standards: How my respect for Cam Newton grew while it all but disappeared for others

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Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

I have never been a Cam Newton fan. I disliked him when he was at Auburn and as far as him being in the NFL, well I forgot about him for the most part until this year. As Newton and his 18-1 Carolina Panthers continued to make their run toward the Super Bowl though, I started to notice my dislike for him disappearing.

It was his attitude that at one point made me say I was not a Newton fan, but as Super Bowl week started to gear up, I found that same attitude pulling me in. I realized that it was his attitude that helped carry his team of no names through a one-loss season. It was his attitude that got his team rallying behind him. It was his attitude that made the Panthers look like they had the most fun out of any team in the league. My respect for the team from Carolina that dealt with doubters all season, myself included, hit an all-time high.

Then came the press conferences and the slew of racially charged questions that I thought the quarterback handled well. According to the media, Newton apparently was the first black quarterback to ever grace the Super Bowl stage, even though there were five prior to him.

But the string of events that turned my dislike into respect was what took place postgame, post-Carolina loss and post-postgame press conferences.

Since football came to a close Sunday night, the media is looking for ways to keep America’s favorite sport in the headlines. And the two biggest headlines this week were: “Why Newton didn’t jump on that final fumble” and “How Newton is the world’s worst loser.”

In regards to the fumble, I don’t know why he didn’t just jump on it. I’d like to think that would be my first reaction if I was a quarterback at the playing stage, but I’ll never know.

What’s really had me going all week though is people’s reaction to his postgame press conference. He left early and gave insufficient answers. He has been called a sore loser, the world’s worst loser, disrespectful, the Donald Trump of the NFL and, well, the list goes on.

On Tuesday, Newton found himself in front of the cameras once again where he said, “Who likes to lose? You show me a good loser, and I’m going to show you a loser.”

He was upset. He just suffered the biggest loss of his career. How would you react? Knowing me, I’d be pretty pissed.

Newton wasn’t fitting the quarterback mold after Sunday’s game. He wasn’t fitting the mold that Denver’s Peyton Manning so uprightly holds. At least so they say.

Newton is being called disrespectful and bitter for leaving a press conference early, but in 2010 Manning was called competitive when he ran off the field before time expired in the Colts’ 31-17 Super Bowl loss to the Saints.

Manning didn’t wait for time to expire and he didn’t shake the hands of his opponents, but according to the reporters he reacted exactly how any competitive athlete should act. He had been working all season to get there only to fall short. So what’s the difference? Why isn’t Newton getting the same understanding?

In my eyes what Manning did in 2010 was the most unsportsmanlike thing to do, and I can thank my mom for that lesson. When I was 7 years old and extremely competitive, my soccer team lost by one goal. I was beyond pissed and refused to shake the other players’ hands. My mom saw me and before the lecture, was dragging me across the field. She made me not only shake the hand of every girl but say sorry for being a sore loser. Let’s just say I learned my lesson. Clearly Archie Manning never taught Peyton Manning that one.

Find any picture of postgame celebrations and you will see Newton shaking Peyton Manning’s hand with a huge congratulatory smile on his face. If I hadn’t watched the game, I wouldn’t have been able to tell who won.

Newton gave praise where it was due on the field and then he headed to the locker room. Instead of his normal flashy outfits for pressers, he slipped on a gray hoodie and kept the hood on. What did the media want? Him flying in with his huge megawatt smile spread across his face?

Newton is only human, yet we hold him along with all professional athletes to a higher standard, they’re heroes right? Just remember that the next time you have a problem with Newton’s Superman celebration reference or Superman T-shirt.

Super Bowl 50

This coming Sunday millions of Americans will be ingesting a variety of unhealthy foods, drinking beer and watching the most anticipated NFL game of the year, Super Bowl 50. Last year’s “Deflategate” Super Bowl drew in 114.4 million viewers setting a new U.S. viewership record. Realistically it only beat out the prior year’s Super Bowl. So if Super Bowl 50 is at least a little interesting, it is estimated that a new record will be set Sunday night.

DENVER BRONCOS: Experience, Peyton Manning, No. 1 defense in the league

The Denver Broncos have made it to this point in the season because of their stellar defense, and even Manning agrees. The Bronco defense led the league in total defense, 283.1 yards per game, and passing defense, 199.6 yards per game. They were third in the league in run defense, with 83.6 yards per game, and fourth in scoring defense, 18.5 points per game. They also led the league with 52 sacks.

So far this has been the worst season in Manning’s career. Granted he lost six games due to a foot injury, but this season he set a career low in passing yardage, touchdown passes and passer rating. Manning also threw 17 interceptions this season, and the Panthers have forced nine in postseason play alone.

CAROLINA PANTHERS: Inexperience, Cam Newton, No. 1 offense in the league

The Carolina Panthers have been proving people wrong all season. Game after game the Panthers looked like a Super Bowl contender, but many people doubted until the very end. The Panthers enter Sunday with the most complete team in the league.

Newton makes his first Super Bowl appearance of his career. The former No. 1 draft pick and Heisman Trophy winner scored 45 touchdowns this season with 35 coming through the air. Carolina averaged 31.2 points a game and is ranked sixth in points allowed. It has the strongest offense and a strong defense as well.

OUTCOME 1, Panthers blow out the Broncos: In 2014, the Broncos made it to the Super Bowl with a record-setting offense and were annihilated 43-8 by the Seattle Seahawks. The Panthers and Seahawks play very similar with a strong run game designed around a dual-threat quarterback and an equally strong defense. The Panthers beat the Seahawks, 31-24 in the divisional round. It wasn’t the same Seahawks team from two years ago, but Carolina is a better team than Seattle was two years ago.

OUTCOME 2, Panthers win but barely: The Broncos might be able to figure out how to shut down Newton but they are going to have to get past an impressive offensive line first. Also, if Carolina’s defense dominates the line of scrimmage and attacks Manning, eliminating his much needed pocket, the Broncos will be left hoping that their defense can once again win them the game.

OUTCOME 3, Broncos win but barely: “Defense wins championships,” I’ve heard that my entire life as a sports fan and an athlete and usually I agree. Prior to 2015, 11 of the teams that went to the Super Bowl had the No. 1 defenses in the league, and nine of those teams went on to win it all. It’ll be a “barely” because the Panthers have the No. 1 pass defense in the league and Denver does not have a strong run game. Fourteen of Denver’s games this season were decided by one score.

Prediction: Panthers with the blowout.