Etan Thomas Wants Sport Team CEOs To Do More To Fight Against Racial Inequality

Etan Thomas believes corporate activism needs to extend beyond just wearing ‘Black Lives Matter’ shirts and other performative tactics.

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Etan Thomas played in the NBA from 2001 to 2011. Now, he’s a published poet, motivational speaker, but most importantly, an activist. Part of that activism involves writing op-ed pieces for the Guardian, in which he uses his sports expertise to break down issues of racial inequality in the realm of professional sports. 

More recently, Thomas wrote a piece about the ways in which professional sports in the US are showing their support for the Black Lives Matter movement while also criticizing the ways in which many are simply saying they support it without actually doing anything to enact real change. This is often referred to online as performative activism, or tokenism, which essentially means one verbalizes support to seem involved, without actually working to make a change. When it comes to major corporations and public figures with massive platforms especially, many have been quick to call them all out for their lack of genuine concern.

At first glance, when Thomas saw the Boston Red Sox, for example, unveil a 250 foot Black Lives Matter billboard next to Fenway Park, he was pleased and excited to see the city of Boston showing such a large sign of support. He had the same attitude regarding the NBA displaying a BLM message at the beginning of every game and MLB players kneeling during the national anthem during opening day.

“Teams, leagues and top-level officials across sports were condemning the killing of George Floyd, and declaring that Black Lives do in fact Matter. They weren’t generic, bland statements either: they went into detail you don’t normally see.”

One major example of the specific statements Thomas is referring to is the Miami Heat’s specific naming of multiple victims of police brutality. In a released statement across the Heat’s entire social media presence, the team claimed to  “deeply mourn the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and too many others, whom we have lost to acts of extreme and excessive violence against African Americans.”

In fact, every single team playing for the NBA made some sort of statement regarding the movement and fight for racial justice. Thomas said his attitude began to shift on all of these statements, however, as the protests continued to occur and more and more videos began circulating online of police officers interrupting these peaceful protests and acting extremely violent towards the individuals simply trying to make their voices heard; aka every American’s first amendment right. 

During the pandemic alone, hate crimes against people of color have increased dramatically, many at the hands of police officers as well. These incidents are all posted online and viewed tens of thousands of times, leading Thomas to call out these sports corporations for remaining quiet now, as the violence against black people in America continues, but speaking up when the movement was still in the mainstream media. Specifically, Thomas is calling upon the billionaire sports CEOs who have a real chance to use their power and platform to enact change. Dan Snyder, the majority owner of Washington’s NFL team, for years refused to change his franchise’s team name despite it being extremely racist towards Native Americans. However, when the BLM movement began gaining mainstream media attention, Snyder decided it was time to change the name; something Thomas claims happened because FedEx threatened to cut off their funding (they paid the team $205 million last year for the naming rights to the teams home stadium). 

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“What if the NBA and its teams’ CEOs used their influence to pressure cities to threaten to cut the funding of police departments if they didn’t adopt tangible reform and accountability measures?”

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Thomas made it clear that he didn’t want the police to be completely abolished, but believed the department should work like every other system in America works; on a system of checks and balances that doesn’t feed them billions of dollars every year while taking funding from things like public education and other community-led programs. 

Thomas also believes that having “Black Lives Matter” painted on courts, fields, and billboards is still an amazing and bold statement, but it isn’t going to change a system that’s actively suppressing/killing black individuals in America. He recalled an interview with Tiffany Crutcher that he did for his book We Matter: Athletes And Activism. Crutcher’s brother, Terence, was unfortunately murdered by a police officer in Tulsa, Oklahoma back in 2016. 

He distinctly remembers Crutcher telling him that when these major wrongful deaths occur and spread online, people “get moved by the moment, they’re angry, they’re outraged, and then they move on to the next thing.” However, for the first time in a while, the movement shows no signs of slowing down, even though the media has slowed down their coverage. 

There have been multiple protests all across America every single day since George Floyds death back in April of this year. The movement has not slowed down at all, the coverage on it just did. Thomas believes that individuals in power now need to shift their attention from BLM memorabilia to putting pressure on local, state, and federal governments to do something. Specifically, Thomas believes we need to start calling upon Jeff Sessions, Donald Trump, and more White House figureheads that they won’t be backing down anytime soon, and their voices will be heard during the election in November.