Immediately following the verdict in the George Zimmerman Murder trial, social media reactions were rampant and overflowing with outrage. Among the voices of those expressing indignation were athletes. While some athletes such as Chris Paul and Stephen Curry were thoughtful in their response to the news, others were not. Two athletes in particular, Victor Cruz and Roddy White, kept it a little too real Saturday evening. Cruz tweeted, “Thoroughly confused. Zimmerman doesn’t last a year before the hood catches up with him.” While White, no stranger to controversial tweets, said, “All them jurors should go home tonight and kill themselves for letting a grown man get away with killing a kid.” Since then, both athletes have deleted their tweets and apologized.
Many fans chastised Cruz and White for responding to violence with violence, and understandably so. Reacting with an eye for an eye approach is never constructive. As my mom would say, two wrongs don’t make a right. However, as fans expressed their dissenting point of views, they also believed, as role models and NFL players, athletes should censor themselves and keep their opinions private. Fans vocalized their preference for athletes to mainly focus on catching the football (in this case) and keeping them entertained. An athletes place is performing on the field or court, not participating in social and political discourse.
I, however, see things differently. Although I don’t agree with the initial sentiments of Cruz and White, I wholeheartedly understand the source of their frustration and anger, and how it can incite you to react out of character. Friday night, while the jury was still deliberating, I watched ‘Fruitvale Station,’ a very important and relevant film about the real-life police shooting of Oscar Grant, an unarmed 22-year-old black male in Oakland. When this film hits your city, please, please, please go see it. Anyway, immediately upon the conclusion of the film, I was filled with a mixed bag of emotions, none of which were positive — despair, frustration, anger, rage, hopelessness and helplessness. I thought of all the innocent Black men who’d unjustly been shot down by cops throughout the course of history. I thought about how as people of color, many of us are trained to sense fear when we spot the boys in blue. How we’re coached to communicate to police officers in the event we’re approached by them. We must be careful they don’t mistake our tone for condescending, brash, or disrespectful because the consequences could result in brutality or death. So yes, after that movie, I was a rebel with an attitude and felt I could fight the world. Shortly after, I acknowledged my negative energy and thoughts wouldn’t resolve any issues and resorted to thinking rationally. But initially, I had very vivid thoughts of violence. Albeit fleeting, they still existed.
Fast forward twenty-four hours later and the announcement of the the Zimmerman verdict. The rage-filled emotions I felt Friday night returned. This time, it was tenfold and directed at George Zimmerman, the jurors, the prosecution team, Zimmerman’s defense attorneys, and his brother too. The so-called justice system that we’re supposed to entrust, had failed ‘us,’ once again. The jurors allowed a murderer with his murder weapon in tow, return to the streets. In short, the ruling was bullshit.
As men of color, Victor Cruz and Roddy White know all too well what it means to live in America. Despite the privilege they’ve acquired as professional athletes, their profession doesn’t solely define who they are. Above all, they’re human beings and brown-skinned men. Men, who have a history of being devalued in our “great” nation. On Saturday night, there was no better illustration of how worthless their particular species is viewed regularly by the system. So in that moment when they registered their opinions on twitter, they weren’t thinking about how their raw emotions would reflect upon the NFL, its fans, or corporate sponsors. Instead, they did what every other human in that moment did, use twitter as an outlet to pour out and share their feelings, as extreme or regrettable as they may have been. Should they have thought before they tweeted? Absolutely. We all should. No matter how dire the situation, taking justice into your own hands, seeking retribution, and advocating violence is never the solution. But I also acknowledge that sometimes our emotions get the best of us and we act out in uncharacteristic ways.
Personally, I didn’t take offense to their remarks because I too was grappling with my own overreaction of vitriolic energy. Admittedly, I’m not a public figure getting paid millions of dollars by the NFL and corporate sponsors. However, while recognizing that, I still appreciated Cruz and White for verbalizing their thoughts and feeling something. Athletes joining the conversation and expressing a passionate point of view, whether I agree or disagree, should be encouraged not criminalized. Too often, we criticize athletes for taking a passive stance on social issues. As great of an athlete as Michael Jordan was, he never used his platform to take a stand on anything meaningful, for fear that it would interfere with his marketability.
Cruz and White’s remarks were inflammatory, without a doubt. But revoking anyone’s freedom of expression in a passionate moment seems unfair. I understand that when they signed up for the NFL they agreed to abide by certain personal conduct rules. The messages which they tweeted Saturday night probably violate that agreement. If they get fined or reprimanded, that’s just. But I don’t want athletes, in the future, to be hesitant about joining conversations that are necessary. If we were ever to make an exception for athletes to step out of character and descend from the pedestal that we’ve erected for them, I think this poignant occasion warrants it.