Sports

Dom Smith’s pain shows how far away US is from racial justice: Sherman

Dom Smith kneeled before Wednesday night’s game and wept afterward.

He took a knee in solidarity and symbolism. And he cried in pain and fury.

How are we still here? How are black people, especially black men, still being used as target practice by police? How, after all the attention on George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, was Smith in a postgame Zoom reacting to Jacob Blake rather than Jacob deGrom?

To see a decent young man try to find the words and composure was to wonder how we still are having a debate on this issue. What is the other side of this argument? It is so easily lost in the color war that this country fights endlessly, but besides being black these are Americans who are being kneeled on and choked and shot seven times in the back.

If an American were shot seven times in his back in a foreign country, we would not think for a second what color he was. We would be in unified horror and outrage, frothing for retribution. So when it happens in this country, how are we still discussing any nuances?

“The most difficult part is to see that people still don’t care,” Smith said, choking up, tears streaking his face. “For this to continually happen, this just shows the hate in people’s hearts. That just sucks, you know. Being a black man in America is not easy. Like I said, I wasn’t there [mentally] today, but I will be fine.”

Smith was then asked what has been most difficult for him the past few months and he paused and he paused and he paused. He choked up again, more tears, greater anguish. At some point, he mentioned it had been “a long day for me” as it came within a sports day that will be unforgettable for what didn’t happen, namely games not played.

It was somewhat reminiscent of March 11, when one minute sports was bulling through the coronavirus and then it was revealed that Jazz center Rudy Gobert had contracted COVID-19 and in what felt like a blink all of sports was shut down.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Bucks decided not to play Game 5 of their playoff series against the Magic. Milwaukee is not far from Kenosha, Wis., which is where Blake was shot. And a sports avalanche had begun. The teams involved in all three NBA playoff games scheduled Wednesday boycotted and as the day went on it had become possible that the NBA playoffs were going to be canceled.

In solidarity, the Milwaukee Brewers then decided not to play against the Reds. Three major league games would be postponed as entire teams voted not to play. Several prominent players such as Dexter Fowler, Jason Heyward and Matt Kemp refused to play even while their teams did.

The Mets said word got to them too late to meet and make an informed decision about whether to play or not. But Smith had heard enough that he spontaneously decided to kneel during the national anthem. What the Mets should do next is meet and, at minimum, kneel with Smith on Thursday night out of unity and care for a teammate in distress. The symbolism does matter. It makes the right people uncomfortable and angry.

If you still think this is an anti-military gesture, you are purposely polluting the issue. It wasn’t when Colin Kaepernick was blackballed out of the NFL. And it isn’t now. All the athletes are saying it is not. Not one has said a foul word about the military. This is about social injustice and unfair policing and systemic racism.

“It’s not a political issue,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said after his team and the Giants opted not to play Wednesday. “I understand there is an election coming up. But this is a human-being issue. We all need to be treated the same way. A black man being shot seven times in the back, we need to be better. That just can’t happen.”

He’s right. And players are going to use whatever platform they have to try to stir change. Yeah, if you are saying you don’t want politics in your sports, understand that the folks who own the teams are influencing politics plenty with their money. Players are going to use their fame (and cash). They are not going to shut up and dribble or pitch any more. They see that they have a power to decide if games are even played now, and they are going to use that power for more important issues than four quarters or nine innings.

If you need to know why, open a laptop, do a name search for Dominic Smith and watch several minutes of a young man open up his soul and all his wounds. He wept expressing hope for a better tomorrow, a better America. We should weep with him — then get to work to create that version of our country.

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