Sports Journalist Howard Bryant Investigates ‘The Heritage’ Of Black Athletes And Politics In His New Book

Sports has been a point of cultural and political collision for black athletes.

Long before President Donald Trump called kneeling NFL players “sons of bitches” and Laura Ingraham admonished LeBron James to “shut up and dribble,” sports was a point of cultural and political collision for black athletes.

“The newspapers used to call sports pages the ‘toy department’ for a reason. It was, after all, only a game,” writes Howard Bryant, an award-winning journalist, author, and senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. “But sports was always more than that for the black athlete.”


In his new book, “The Heritage: Black Athletes, a Divided America, and the Politics of Patriotism,” Bryant explores the deep, complicated history of sports, race, and dissent in America.

Today, as fatal confrontations between people of color and the police are commonly broadcast over social media, Bryant examines the complex issues that erupt at the point where sports and society collide. He explores topics ranging from the debate over “political” messaging and the optics of patriotism to the longstanding race and class resentments that target black athletes — whose big paychecks have both empowered them to speak up and pressured them to keep silent.

[new_image position="standard" id="null"]Howard Bryant. Image courtesy of Beacon Press.[/new_image]

Drawing on interviews with athletes, activists, veterans, historians, journalists, and many others, Bryant traces the rise, fall, and return of the black political athlete, detailing the rich cultural history of what has been informally nicknamed the “Heritage” — started by Paul Robeson, built by Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, and Olympians Tommie Smith and John Carlos, then undermined by what he refers to as corporate-friendly “transcenders of race,” such as O.J. Simpson, Michael Jordan, and Tiger Woods, only to be reclaimed today by athlete-activists such as Colin Kaepernick, LeBron James, and Carmelo Anthony.

One of the major fracture points around the issue of sports and culture, Bryant argues, came after Sept. 11, 2001, when the sports industry turned arenas into a pageantry for military authoritarianism and heightened nationalism.

It was revealed in a 2015 report called “Tackling Paid Patriotism” by U.S. Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake that sports teams had been charging the military to stage events (including those heartwarming "surprise" homecoming ceremonies) and had been using sporting events as recruiting opportunities.

“The Heritage.” Image courtesy of Beacon Press.

In light of the NFL ruling on May 23 requiring athletes to stand for the national anthem, GOOD caught up with Bryant to find out more about the state of sports and politics in today’s America:

Kneeling during the national anthem, to some people, is anti-patriotic while to others, it’s an expression of free speech. What’s driving this division?

What you have here, in so many different instances, is a cognitive dissonance between the political and the patriotic. This entire question of being able to say what you feel should be very basic, and it’s not where we are in this culture. We feel like we’re going backwards. For black athletes, and I think for black people in general, this is even more difficult for them because during all this time they were told, ‘Hey, after the Obama election, we’re now post-racial. This stuff doesn’t matter anymore.’ And yet it feels even worse. So, this whole idea of post-racialism is not quite accurate.

Have things gotten better or worse in terms of race, politics, and sports?

These issues have been growing and growing for years. I think things are continuing in a lot of ways and not for the better. I would like to say positive things about it, but I can’t say that simply because the money is so great. At some point, you have enormous financial incentives to promote African-American athletes, but at the same time, there is this enormous cultural backlash not wanting them to participate, except scoring touchdowns and in dunking basketballs, and that’s not quite what I think it should be about.

I think what we’re all looking for is for our time to be different from the past. We’re looking for our time to be something more positive. We want our time to say, “See, we did improve.” And I think in a lot of ways, obviously, we have. You certainly would not compare our culture today to the culture back in 1870. But at the same time, we’ve also regressed in some ways because we’ve been overtaken by certain influences — obviously the influence of money and the influence of power. These are timeless elements that are part of the human condition. And so what do we do then when you don’t see the progress that you want in some of the areas where you feel like, OK, why aren’t we better in this regard?

What is the relationship between sports participation and citizenship?

When I think about this book and I think about the heritage of these black athletes, that heritage is rooted in their participation, not their work — not simply their athletic talent.

It’s their participation as citizens. And that’s what we should want from them because what’s interesting is that when we think about these players — when they make so much money and they don’t get involved, we criticize them for that — why aren’t they saying anything? Why aren’t they doing anything? Why are they just collecting their money and at the club drinking $3,000 bottles of champagne? But when they do that, we ask them how come they’re not on the frontlines when all these little kids idolize them.

And that’s the whole thing about sports.

You call them role models; you want people to look up to them. But then you want them to be quiet.

You want them to shut up and play. So, are they role models or are they employees? The messages are so mixed and they’re so muddled that sometimes you simply conclude — especially when it comes to the African-American athlete — that you simply just don’t want to hear from them at all.

We all just wish it would go away, and it doesn’t go away. And we don’t wish — at least as an African-American citizen and parent — I don’t want these guys to go away. They have too much influence. I want them to be positive influences on the community. I want them to say what they feel is right. That’s really important.

Sports
via Smithfly.com

"Seventy percent of the Earth is covered with water, now you camp on it!" proudly declares Smithfly on the website for its new camping boat — the Shoal Tent.

Why have we waited so long for camping equipment that actually lets us sleep on the water? Because it's an awful idea, that's why.

"The world is your waterbed," Smithfly says on its site. But the big difference is that no one has ever had to worry about falling asleep and then drowning on their waterbed.

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While it is possible that one could wade into the water, unzip the tent, have a pleasant slumber, and wake up in the morning feeling safe and refreshed, there are countless things that could go terribly wrong.

The tent could float down the river and you wake up in the middle of nowhere.

You could have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

This guy.

It could spring a leak and you could drown while wrapped up in eight feet of heavy nylon.

A strong current could tip the tent-boat over.

There isn't any way to steer the darn thing.

This guy.

Mashable shared a charming video of the tent on Twitter and it was greeted with a chorus of people sharing the many ways one could die while staying the night in the Shoal Tent.

Oh yeah, it's expensive, too.

Even though the general public seems to think the Shoal Tent is a terrible idea, according to the Smithfly's website, it's currently sold out due to "popular demand" and it will be "available in 6-8 weeks." Oh, and did we mention it costs $1,999?

Lifestyle
via zoezimmm / Imgur

There are few more perniciously dangerous conspiracy theories being shared online than the idea that vaccines cause autism.

This has led to a decline in Americans vaccinating their children, resulting in a massive increase in measles. This year has already seen over 1,200 cases of measles, a disease that was eradicated in the U.S. nearly 20 years ago.

A 2015 Pew Research study found that 83% of Americans think the measles vaccine is safe, while 9% think it's not. Another 7% are not sure. But when you look at the polls that include parents of minors, the numbers get worse, 13% believe that the measles vaccine is unsafe.

There is zero truth to the idea that vaccines cause autism. In fact, a recent study of over 650,000 children found there was no link whatsoever.

RELATED: A new study of over 650,000 children finds — once again — that vaccines don't cause autism

A great example of the lack of critical thinking shown by anti-vaxxers was a recent exchange on Facebook shared to Imgur by zoezimmm.

A parent named Kenleigh at a school in New Mexico shared a photo of a sign at reads: "Children will not be enrolled unless an immunization record is presented and immunizations are up-to-date."

This angered a Facebook user who went on a senseless tirade against vaccinations.

"That's fine, I'll just homeschool my kids," she wrote. At least they won't have to worry about getting shot up in school or being bullied, or being beat up / raped by the teachers!"

To defend her anti-vaccination argument, she used a factually incorrect claim that Amish people don't vaccinate their children. She also incorrectly claimed that the MMR vaccine is ineffective and used anecdotal evidence from her and her father to claim that vaccinations are unnecessary.

She also argued that "every human in the world is entitled to their own opinion." Which is true, but doesn't mean that wildly incorrect assumptions about health should be tolerated.

She concluded her argument with a point that proves she doesn't care about facts: "It doesn't matter what you say is not going to change my mind."

RELATED: 12 medical professionals shared their most memorable anti-vaxxer stories and you won't stop face-palming

While the anti-vaxxer was incorrect in her points, it must also be pointed out that some of the people who argued with her on Facebook were rude. That should never be tolerated in this type of discourse, but unfortunately, that's the world of social media.

Here's the entire exchange:

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The post received a ton of responses on imgur. Here are just a few:

"'In my opinion...' 'I believe...' That's not how facts work."

"You're entitled to your opinion. And everyone else is entitled to call you a dumbass."

"'What I do with my children is no concern to you at all.' Most of the time, true. When your kid might give mine polio, not true."

"If my child can't bring peanut butter, your child shouldn't bring preventable diseases."

It's important to call out people who spread dangerous views, especially how they pertain to health, on social media. But people should do so with respect and civility.

Health

He photographed Nazi atrocities and buried the negatives. The unearthed images are unforgettable.

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via Yad Vashem and Archive of Modern Conflict, 2007

In September 1939, the Nazis invaded Poland. By April 1940, the gates closed on the Lodz Ghetto, the second largest in the country after Warsaw.

Throughout the war, over 210,000 people would be imprisoned in Lodz.

Among those held captive was Henryk Ross. He was a Jewish sports photographer before the Nazi invasion and worked for the the ghetto's Department of Statistics during the war. As part of his official job, he took identification photos of the prisoners and propaganda shots of Lodz' textile and leather factories.

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via Imgur

Every few years there's something that goes mega viral because people can't decide what it is.

There was the famous "is it blue and black, or white and gold" dress?

There was the audio recording that said either "yanny" or "Laurel."

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Rochester NY Airport Security passing insulting notes to travelers caught on tape www.youtube.com

Neil Strassner was just passing through airport security, something he does on a weekly basis as part of his job. That's when a contract airport security employee handed him a small piece of folded cardboard. Strassner, 40, took the paper and continued on his way. He only paused when he heard the security employee shouting back at him, "You going to open the note?"

When he unfolded the small piece of paper, Strassner was greeted with an unprompted insult. "You ugly!!!"

According to Strassner, and in newly released CCTV of the incident, the woman who handed him the note began laughing loudly.

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