There's Opportunity For Change---But Few Pro Athletes Are Willing To Take The Risk

There's Opportunity For Change---But Few Pro Athletes Are Willing To Take The Risk
Huffington Post Live

George Lynch lives in Dallas, Texas. He's the Director of player development for SMU. He played in the NBA for 12 seasons and was a first round draft pick in 1993. George Lynch, an African American man; is a model for success, an example of the potential of opportunity. On July 7th, 2016 nothing that George Lynch accomplished in his career mattered. The only thing that mattered was that he was African American and that he had to take a side. On July 7th, 2016 Micah Xavier Johnson ambushed Dallas Police with during a peaceful rally. The rally came on the heels of two more unarmed black men, Philando Castile and Alton Sterling being gunned down by police. After the Dallas police shooting the conversation became a divide between supporting law enforcement or supporting racial equality for African Americans. 

George Lynch was one of only two former NBA players to add his name to the list of supporters for the 2nd annual "Together We Ball" basketball game and community day. The event features a day of community engagement aimed at fostering the relationships between the police and the community. In the wake of one of the deadliest shootings against law enforcement, Lynch and a host of others decided to continue the conversation. He could have been silent or prepared a politically correct statement in an effort to appease both sides. Lynch's answer was action through the platform of sports. 

Sports often does the job society should be doing when it comes to race, religion and differences. Competitive sports breaks color down to numbers, stats and wins. Even in a charity game between police and pastors in Dallas, Texas. The game seems to dissolve most of the superficial dynamics that lead to social issues. However, when an athlete’s racial identity is a distraction to winning, it becomes a problem. It’s what we’ve seen with the Colin Kaepernick controversy. Kaepernick removed the cloak of athlete to bring awareness to police brutality, racial inequality and injustice.  Many athletes spend their lives trying to be as normal as possible. They don't want to have to be uncomfortable if they don't have to be. 

“Kaepernick, Wade, CP3, Lebron…what they’ve done…it helps, it’s a start”, Lynch said. “A lot of guys don’t know where to start”.

Lynch is starting with his sons and the players he teaches at SMU. “I have a district attorney coming to my house to speak to my team at SMU”. Lynch is equipping young men with knowledge from the source of a system that seems rigged. He has also introduced them to police officers in an effort to open up a dialog that hasn’t been there.  He stays involved in his old neighborhood and with kids that didn’t get his “opportunity”.

On October 3rd, 1995 Lynch sat in a waiting room surrounded by unfamiliar but inviting faces. He was in the Los Angeles area, and perhaps the inviting faces were fans. Lynch was the 1st Round draft pick of the Los Angeles Lakers in 1993.  October 3rd 1995 was the day O.J. Simpson was acquitted for the murders of Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman. After the verdict was announced everything changed. Lynch felt his blackness return, he temporarily lost the buffer that often shielded him from racism.  “They weren’t looking at me as an athlete anymore”, Lynch remembered.

“It was an uncomfortable situation,” Lynch recalled. “if you were white you thought O.J. did it…if you were black you thought we finally got justice”.

“Justice” can never be a“finality”, it’s on-going and evolving. Nearly 25 years since the O.J. Simpson verdict we still find divisions along racial, class, gender and religious lines.  We’re often forced to take “sides” in a social media “all or nothing” political era. If you support the Black Lives Matter movement, you can’t support Blue Lives Matter.  There are two Americas, one occupied by people of color and the other occupied by everyone else. George Lynch discovered the divide at an early age.

“Growing up I was treated better in the neighborhood than outside the neighborhood…Outside the neighborhood I was just another black kid”, he said humbly.

Lynch wasn’t just “another black kid” once he discovered he had the talent to play basketball. People from all over were coming to see his games at Flint High School. “My opportunity was getting out of the neighborhood”, he said. “It’s 100 boys that didn’t get that opportunity”. Lynch would get a scholarship to the University Of North Carolina in 1989.  He remembered a time he was racially profiled driving a nice car through Virginia Beach. Lynch recalled how local officers questioned him and a few of his teammates for being in the “wrong” neighborhood.

“We used Dean Smith’s name”, Lynch said. “If I got pulled over I pulled out the college card”.

Dean Smith’s legendary status was enough to stave off several potential encounters that could have ended badly if Lynch were just “another black kid”.  Lynch was an athlete playing basketball for on the most famous universities in the world. He also said that Smith encouraged the team to take stands for social issues they believed in. Smith would take time to have the uncomfortable conversations with his players. However Lynch had already been dealing with “uncomfortable” for most of his life. “You learn how to adjust,” he recalled. “The average white person doesn’t have to deal with that”.

The average black man doesn’t have a Dean Smith name-drop. Lynch understands that more than people would probably care to give him credit for. There have been moments in his life when the “college card” didn’t matter. There have been moments in his life when being a professional athlete was over written by his racial identity. The waiting room on October 3rd, 1995 was just one of many instances where his status dissolved. He has two sons that he’s trying to teach to be aware of their presence as young black men. “You have to have these conversations with your sons,” he sighed. “They have to be respectful”. Lynch isn’t talking about respecting the sensitivity of white peers but the respect of who his sons are as men. “You have to know how to carry yourself,” he said.  The knowledge of who they are will get them much further in life than being defined by someone else.

“The average black man on the street is a little intimidating but we’re all somebody’s son”. Maybe what’s missing in the great divide between races is the simple fact that we are all someone’s son or daughter. Beneath the thin layer of skin that allows us to categorize humanity is the reality that we are all the same. 

Lynch escaped the neighborhood and he understands why some players “escape” and never return. It’s a part of becoming a professional athlete because it offers a false sense of existing between the divide.  The false sense can be taken away in an instant, ask NBA player Thabo Sefolosha who was assaulted by police resulting in a broken leg. What about former tennis star James Blake who assaulted by police in a case of mistaken identity? A black athlete is still “black” just like Lynch was reminded on October 3rd 1995 when O.J. Simpson became the most hated black man in America. Lynch could’ve dropped the weight of “blackness” but he’s chosen to carry it proudly and strengthen others to the do the same. “It’s going to take some time”, he said.