McGrady, shooting guard for the Houston Rockets, recently changed his jersey number
from number 1 to number 3.
The number 3 stands for a three-point program to
stop the genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan, which has already
claimed 300,000 lives: peace, protection and punishment. McGrady
is a pro basketball player-turned-human rights activist. He visited
refugee camps in the troubled region with members of the Enough
Project. And he has decided to devote time off the court to humanitarian efforts,
sister city program that links middle schools, high schools, colleges, and universities in the
U.S. with schools in the Darfuri refugee camps. A documentary
film called 3
which is available for online viewing, discusses McGrady’s journey
to the refugee camps. Recently, on the Rachel Maddow show, he
had this to say:
I don’t live on the Earth just to live to walk it,
I live on here to make a difference, and I’ve done a lot of
things in the community of Houston and Florida, within the states,
but I wanted to something more on a global level, and this is
huge. I mean, it was a no brainer for me. Especially when
once I got over there and saw how bad it was, you know, you
can’t come back and not do anything.
At a time when many athletes seem to receive attention
only when they find trouble, this is a rare and welcome piece
of news. To be sure, there are other stars out there, citizen-athletes
who are doing their part and making a difference. Society needs
to hear more about them.
And there is a long history of people who stuck out
their neck for political and social causes that were important
to them. For example, Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics was
a civil rights advocate who participated in the 1963 March on
Washington. Muhammad Ali was a conscientious objector to the
war in Vietnam, and was arrested, convicted and stripped of his
boxing title for refusing to serve in the military. The Supreme
Court later overturned his conviction. And during the 1968 Olympic
Games in Mexico City, African-American athletes Tommie Smith and
John Carlos raised their black-gloved fists—a symbol of “Black
power”— when they received their medals.
these days do we see such bold statements and actions from our
professional athletes. Perhaps it speaks to a past era, when
people in the spotlight viewed themselves as representatives of
their community. Perhaps it speaks to a present fear of lucrative
corporate endorsements being cancelled if one “rocks the boat”
and speaks out. “After all,” the argument goes, “if they’re giving
you all of that big money to play ball, why mess it all up?”
Such a mentality reminds me of the gladiator in ancient Rome,
who risked bodily injury for the entertainment of the crowd.
That gladiator fought and died at the behest of Caesar, who, in
turn, benefitted politically from the games, and used the spectacles
to divert public attention from the nation’s problems.
Perhaps it is unrealistic to expect everyone, or
every athlete for that matter, to be a leader like Tracy McGrady.
At the same time, people who are in the public eye are role models,
whether they like it or not. Their stature, their exposure, and
in some cases their wealth, provide them a unique opportunity
to reach down and pull others up. They can influence young minds
to do positive things, if only by example. And they can shape
public opinion by giving badly needed exposure to important issues.
And in some cases, as with McGrady, they can motivate their own
peers to get involved in causes greater than themselves.
I salute Tracy McGrady and others who have dared
to exhibit leadership off the court and off the field as well
as on it. They challenge all of us to do better.
Any BlackCommentator.com article may
be re-printed so long as it is re-printed in its entirety and full
credit given to the author and www.BlackCommentator.com. If the
re-print is on the Internet we additionally request a link back
to the original piece on our Website.
Your comments are always welcome.
eMail re-print notice
If you send us an eMail message
we may publish all or part of it, unless you tell us it
is not for publication. You may also request that we withhold
Thank you very much for your readership.
Your comments are always welcome.
1 , 2009
published every Thursday
Bill Fletcher, Jr.
Est. April 5, 2002
Printer Friendly Version
in resizeable plain
text format or pdf