Athletes should speak their mind like all Americans | Hurt

Cecil Hurt
The Tuscaloosa News

“ARE WE BALL PLAYERS OR WE HUMAN?” — Jaylen Waddle on Twitter

Last November, the President of the United States attended a football game at Bryant-Denny Stadium. There was nothing wrong with that. Some people grumbled because of the traffic tie-ups. Some people grumbled because they don’t like Donald Trump or his policies  Others cheered long and loud when President Trump was introduced. There was a bit of counter-protesting, moved well off the University of Alabama campus, but the only casualty was an unflattering Baby Trump balloon that was slashed by a Trump supporter.  

There was nothing intrinsically wrong with the visit, though. Presidents travel, they make appearances. But it was, without question, political  There is no definition of the word “political” that does not fit. The President and his entourage were not in Tuscaloosa to grab a slab of ribs, or even to watch an entire football game. The visit was for Trump to visit friendly territory, get a photo opportunity and a cheering crowd and to hobnob a bit with some highly-placed Alabama Republicans. All that is well and good.

What I don’t understand is the idea that the Alabama football players who have chosen to march in support of racial equality are somehow making Alabama football “political.”

Football has always been political. It probably always will be. So is attending college. So when the players, with various backgrounds, from across the racial spectrum, move from the steps of Coleman Coliseum, where Wendell Hudson became the school’s first Black athlete 50 years ago, to the schoolhouse door at Foster Auditorium where George Wallace stood to defend segregation, they are not walking on apolitical ground. No such ground exists in America, not in Alabama, not in California, not in Mississippi, not in New York. Nothing in the public arena suddenly “becomes” political.  

The ball players have a right to speak because, to answer Waddle’s question, they are also human. They don’t have to keep their mouth shut or their eyes closed simply because they play a game on Saturdays.

Frankly, I think most people accept that fact and the atmosphere around their speech and symbolism on Monday will be received positively, for the most part. That doesn’t mean that everyone has to agree with what they say, just as not everyone at the Alabama-LSU game in November had to agree with Donald Trump on everything.

I am not preaching any ideology other than free speech. If you think that the protesting athletes are wrong or misguided or ill-informed, then dissent. Organize a peaceful counter-protest if you want. Speak up, respectfully. That’s the way things are supposed to work in America. And if you find the notion of a peaceful, health-conscious protest (masks and distancing need to be in effect) is so reprehensible to you in August, then find another avenue for entertainment in the fall.

The answer to Jaylen Waddle’s question is “both.” Not just a ball player, as if he were designed like a computer-generated image, to entertain without thinking. A ball player and a human. And one who, like every teammate, every fan and every American, should be free to speak his or her mind.

Reach Cecil Hurt at or via Twitter @cecilhurt