Pretty much the last good moment of the year 2020 was when Raheem Mostert put the finishing touches on a 220-yard, four-TD day in the NFC Championship at Levi’s Stadium. 49ers 37, Green Bay Packers 20, January 19, 2020. Levi’s Stadium roared. Jimmy Garoppolo smiled.
And that, sports fans, was that. End of good news in 2020. Unless your last name is ‘Mahomes’.
But since then, we’ve lost Kobe Bryant and his daughter in a tragedy.
A global pandemic ransacked our country.
And now we are all grappling with ghosts of America’s Original Sin: slavery, and the systemic racism that has taken root in our culture ever since.
Other than that, things are peachy, as I was just saying at the negotiating table with MLB owners and players.
If you think a Jock Blog is going to solve our nation’s racial and societal ills, then you may also be under the delusion that televised corn hole is an acceptable way to spend a Saturday afternoon. But I do appreciate you reading. And may your corn hole bean bag find a hole.
All I can do is pick up the pen and offer you the view from my perspective, coming from a white guy who grew up in southern Marin County, one of the whitest counties in the state.
My Dad was the grandson of Irish immigrants and the son of a career US Navy man and a home-maker. He worked as a lawyer for the state of California, made a decent living, but nothing too fancy. Summer vacations were a weeklong cabin rental in Tahoe, which we loved. My Mom was a home-maker, and spent the later part of her life as an hourly-wage reading aid at the local middle school.
My Dad frequently challenged my older two siblings and I to think through issues, played devil’s advocate a lot, and rewarded good report cards with trips to Swensen’s for ice cream. My Mom loved us unconditionally, stayed out of most of the intellectual sparring between the kids and Dad, kissed us on the cheek every morning on our way out the door and handed us home-made, brown-bag lunches that symbolized a foundation of security and warmth.
Starting in Babe Ruth baseball at age 13, I began interacting with my black peers from Marin City. We were competitors, and then teammates on All-Star teams. We were friends, and laughed a lot. At Tam High, playing on the basketball team continued our interactions, even if we didn’t hang out together at lunch time. A black teammate slipped orange-foam Walkman earphones on my head at a post-game Burger King run once, turning me on to Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five.
I would later come to think my years on the sporting fields with black peers from Marin City maybe taught me as much as anything I learned in the classroom. I considered myself familiar with their perspective, and often thought that the most critical thing I could learn about race relations was that I would never, ever presume to know what it was like to be black in America. My experience taught me that many black Americans were born with an 0-2 count, in a sports metaphor. Being white, with my parents willing to pay tuition for four years of college, I always felt we were born with a hitter’s count.
I thought I knew the deal, pretty much.
And that led me to Marin City on Monday for the #OurVoiceOurMovement Peaceful Protest. I took my 12-year-old son. I told him just as important as speaking out against police brutality on black Americans was for him to see his peers next door; and for them to see him. To begin to build that relationship. This was familiar turf. Or so I thought.
And then I heard speaker after speaker, some of whom I knew. And they told me, and many others, in no uncertain terms, that we DO NOT know the deal.
That their pain is more constant than we realize.
That their fear of the system is larger than we could have imagined.
That their anger comes from a very real place, and roils more than we know.
That even though we may have laughed and competed on a basketball court years ago, and relived memories and soul shakes every time we see each other over the years, in the end I go home to a bubble of security in Mill Valley. They stay in Marin City, where a deputy sheriff just shot a local resident in a traffic stop in 2013, resulting in the deputy’s dismissal.
The longer the speakers talked into the afternoon, the more saddened I felt at how little I understood the depth of their plight.
What did I know, after all?
I didn’t know much at all, they seemed to tell me, over and over.
We walked back to our car and I asked my son what he learned. He paused, and offered that “it’s not about showing up today for the march, it’s about what happens and how we act after this, weeks and months later.” I was proud of him. It was the right answer. I still don’t know how much he could fully process, or if he was just saying it to say the right answer.
After all, I thought I had learned the right answers all those years ago.
The only recourse now is to listen. More important, to hear. Right now, that’s the best I can do. The rest, we can figure out day by day.
Especially if the 12-year-olds grow up and do this better than we have.