This is the time of year when we get comprehensive. What mattered most, what was best, what will be remembered: there is something about the late days of December that puts people in a retrospective mood. So it goes, and so it has gone, and so a storyline has emerged that’s maybe more comforting than true. Anyway, it is almost time to say goodbye to 2014, The Year Sports Reclaimed Its Social Conscience.
To be fair, the ingredients are there — LeBron James, Derrick Rose, Reggie Bush and others wore their “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts, and so made common cause with a massive public movement for more just policing; a cadre of St. Louis Rams emerging from a stadium tunnel with their hands up, in solidarity with the movement in nearby Ferguson, MO; after two police officers were killed in Brooklyn, the New York Giants and Jets took the field brandishing NYPD hats.
Add to that mix entire college basketball lineups that have voiced their opposition — usually through those same comic sans I Can’t Breathe t-shirts — to the verdicts in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases, and their support of the movements that rose in their wake. In almost every sport, at seemingly all levels, athletes have openly spoken their minds about police brutality and social justice. In California, the issue sparked a Monday morning protest even at the high school level, after one girls’ program was banned from a tournament for intending to wear “I Can’t Breathe” shirts. The ostensible wall between sports and Everything Else has always been false, but now it was flattened. Athletes in every sport, at the professional level and at every level below, were making it clear that they would not sit this debate out.
Not so fast.
While in the last month the American sports scene has experienced a level of social activism not seen since the Vietnam era, there has been one glaring omission: college football. The story of the Razorbacks’ All-SEC running back Jonathan Williams makes this evident, as I wrote today in The Classical.