Mac Engel

Pro athletes who take a stance can make a difference

Dallas Cowboys defensive end Jeremy Mincey, left, celebrating a sack against Philadelphia on Sunday, says, “There comes a point when you have to stand up for what’s right — white, black, everybody together.”
Dallas Cowboys defensive end Jeremy Mincey, left, celebrating a sack against Philadelphia on Sunday, says, “There comes a point when you have to stand up for what’s right — white, black, everybody together.” Star-Telegram

Jeremy Mincey heard the gun click, and the police officer yell, “Stop you son of a [expletive]!”

Scared to death, Mincey stopped, raised his hands in the air and “I heard that gun click and I knew if I turned around, I’d give him a reason to shoot,” he said.

The Cowboys defensive end was 16 then, walking to a friend’s house in Statesboro, Ga., when he was stopped by the police in his neighborhood. He is 31 now, a college graduate, financially secure, and despite all of that elapsed time between then and now, that fear is tangible.

“You are in a situation where you are powerless and you want to act out of anger, but you can’t because you could lose your life,” Mincey told me. “I was a child. I just wanted to play basketball with my friend. I don’t know if the cop thought I was a criminal. Things like that happen every day.”

Don’t hate the Rams’ Tavon Austin, the Georgetown men’s basketball team, LeBron James, the Browns’ Andrew Hawkins or any jock for using the platform to make the social commentary each has made in recent weeks.

Keep it up. Keep up the pressure. Make us uncomfortable. Uncomfortable gets you somewhere. While 100 people may be alienated, the one or two who are reached will see there are other sides. It’s worth it. Someone will gain a level of sympathy, and possibly empathy, to change their way of thinking.

In the past month, jocks have made a point of using their arenas to at least acknowledge the tragic deaths of blacks by police officers in Ferguson, Mo., New York City and Ohio.

When LeBron and his teammates wore those “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirts for the late Eric Garner, it made you mad. Or when Hawkins came out of the tunnel in Cleveland on Sunday wearing a “Justice” T-shirt with the names of the Ohioans killed during recent encounters with the police, it turned you off. Or maybe it made you stop to think. There is a reason so many pro jocks are doing this, and just because most of us can’t relate doesn’t mean the problem is any less real.

When I visited Ferguson in September and spoke with six residents there, I can’t imagine living with the level of distrust they have for the police in their community. Or knowing that, just because you are a cop in that town, a lot of people hate your guts.

Pro sports is not an ideal venue to reach society, but sometimes it is the only place. A ballgame may be the last place where a person who is set in his ways can see and hear another side.

The messenger doesn’t have to wear a suit and tie, a preacher’s collar or be an elected leader. Sometimes the messenger wears a helmet and pads.

It is just a game, but sports has affected our society because the athletes step out of the arena to raise our level of awareness on issues they believe in and, in the process, show us our astounding ignorance and continual double standards.

We are a better nation because of Jesse Owens in Berlin, Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson in Brooklyn, Tommie Smith and John Carlos in Mexico City, Martina Navratilova at Wimbledon and Brandon Marshall in Chicago. Imagine our society without Muhammad Ali, or Charles Barkley.

We are a better nation because of those who force us to look at ourselves, our neighbors and make us squirm.

As long as the athletes know what it is they are taking a stand for, and it’s not simply an act of wearing a T-shirt and appearing to be anti-establishment, more power to them.

Just because you don’t agree with this group’s stance on our country’s latest tragic examples of strained relationships between some blacks and some cops is a “you” problem. If you don’t think it’s real, talk to Mincey. Drive to the “bad part of town.”

And if you don’t think there are a lot of good cops who are trying to protect and help citizens but are labeled and treated like trash for the sins of others, talk to them.

This struggle is not a one-way street. This is a double-edged slalom rife with distrust, anger and fear on both sides.

A foundation of this country is the ability to disagree with our brothers and sisters and realize we are all on the same team. This is not a black-white, red-blue, left-right issue — this is a human being issue.

It will never be perfect, or fixed, but it can improve. The only way we get anywhere is to be uncomfortable. To squirm.

The athletes who showed the courage to make a statement should be recognized, commended and discussed. They can affect something other than your fantasy, or your favorite football, team. They can start a conversation that needs to happen for something far greater than the final score.

“If we keep letting things slip through the cracks, what kind of society are we going to have?” Mincey asked. “I commend all of those guys. There comes a point when you have to stand up for what’s right — white, black, everybody together. That’s what it’s about.”

Just listen to him. Listen to all of them.

This matters to him, and it should matter to the rest of us.

Follow Mac Engel on The Big Mac Blog at star-telegram.com/sports/.

Mac Engel, 817-390-7697

Twitter: @macengelprof

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