Mark Reason is a sports columnist for Stuff
OPINION: While Super Rugby limped into the knockout stages with as poor a standard of footy as I can remember in the history of the competition, something sad and beautiful and angry and wonderful was happening on the other side of the world.
An athlete had the courage to shatter the silence. An athlete spoke from the heart about things that really matter. An athlete turned his back on the amoral, some would say evil, corporate dollars that have muzzled a generation. Finally a voice was heard speaking out from the wilderness.
If you haven’t yet seen and heard Steve Kerr’s speech about gun control, then I urge you to go there now. It is Shakespearean as it weaves through so many modulations of emotion. Kerr is the coach of the Golden State Warriors basketball team, but for three glorious minutes he cared not a jot for the fact that his team was on the edge of going to the NBA finals. He cared only for the suffering of his people than him.
Kerr said: “I’m not going to talk about basketball… Any basketball questions don’t matter.
“Since we left shootaround, 14 children were killed 400 miles from here, and a teacher. And in the last 10 days we’ve had elderly Black people killed in a supermarket in Buffalo, we’ve had Asian churchgoers killed in Southern California and now we have children murdered at school.
“When are we going to do something? I’m tired, I’m so tired of getting up here and offering condolences to the devastated families that are out there. I’m tired of the moments of silence. Enough. “
In just that short opening room Kerr’s voice is breaking. He is on the edge of tears. He is fighting for the breath to make his words about him a reality. He becomes angry. He lightly bangs the desk with his hand without even knowing he was doing it.
Kerr continues: “There’s 50 senators, right now, who refuse to vote on HR8, which is a background check rule that the House passed a couple of years ago, it’s been sitting there for two years. And there’s a reason they won’t vote on it: To hold onto power.
“So I ask you, Mitch McConnell, I ask all of you Senators who refuse to do anything about the violence and school shootings and supermarket shootings, I ask you: Are you going to put your own desire for power ahead of the lives of our children, and our elderly, and our churchgoers? Because that’s what it looks like. It’s what we do every week. “
And I ask you Google, whose company logo was on the NBA board that formed a background to Kerr’s speech; and I ask you Rakuten, FTX, Clorox, Betway, Henessy, Biofreeze and all the other companies that sponsor Golden State Warriors; what are you going to do about Kerr’s speech?
Because I’m tired, I’m so tired of companies using their faceless, amoral power to gag the sporting world. I am tired of athletes being denied their right to free speech. I am tired of this silent winter of sport when men and women are too afraid to speak out.
There is an unspoken reason why horrendous bullying is so prevalent in New Zealand sport. It is because the victims are afraid to speak. It is because power does not want to hear the truth in case it sullies the brand. And so the suffering of our young men and women continues. And so the deaths of beautiful young women like Olivia Podmore continue.
I am tired of the Olympics and the pitiful Rule 50 from the Olympic Charter which effectively prohibits political protest. In 1968 Tommie Smith and John Carlos stood on the Olympic podium, their shoeless state symbolizing black poverty in America. The two brave young men bowed their heads and raised their black gloved right and left arm in protest.
And where have we come in the 54 years since. We have come to a place where an Iranian champion wrestler is executed in 2020 for his views di lui against the state and the Olympic movement say they can do nothing because the execution didn’t relate to a sporting event. Have we learned nothing.
Please carry on Mr Kerr: “So I’m fed up, I’ve had enough, we’re going to play the game tonight, but I want every person here, every person listening to this to think about your own child, or grandchild, or mother, or father, or sister, or brother – how would you feel if this happened to you today?
“We can’t get numb to this. We can’t sit here and just read about it and go, ‘Well, let’s have a moment of silence, yeah, go Dubs, come on Mavs, let’s go.’ That’s what we’re going to do, we’re going to play a basketball game. And 50 Senators in Washington are going to hold us hostage.
“You realize that 90 percent of Americans, regardless of political party, want background checks, universal background checks? 90 percent of us. We are being held hostage by 50 Senators in Washington who refuse to even put it to a vote, despite what we, the American people, want. They won’t vote on it because they want to hold on to their own power. It’s pathetic. I’ve had enough. “
We’ve all had enough. We’ve had enough of football journalists being forced to delete footage at the final of the Uefa Champions League. We’ve had enough of them being herded into a room by heavies because the authorities don’t want you and me to see images of staff incompetence and police brutality, images of children being tear gassed.
We’ve had enough of courageous young men like Kane Hames being silenced after he took to the field for the Maori All Blacks in 2016 wearing a bandage on his left wrist with the message ‘Standing Rock’. Hames was protesting against a US government plan to construct a $ 3.7 billion pipeline through Native American land in Dakota.
It had been 43 years since Marlon Brando asked Sacheen Littlefeather to refuse the Oscar on his behalf. She said; “The reasons for this being the treatment of the American Indians by the film industry … I hope I have not intruded on this evening and in the future our hearts and our understanding will meet with love and generosity.”
That love and generosity is out there in the hearts of so many of our young people. But it has been gagged by the big companies and by the Olympics and by FIFA and by the miserable old men of World Rugby who ban a courageous young man like Hames from exercising his right to peaceful protest.
So thank you Steve Kerr for shining a light into the dark world of professional sport where the dollar is more important than the truth. Thank you Steve Kerr for having the courage of our convictions and showing us the way forward.
A couple of days after Kerr’s speech the Tampa Bay Rays and the New York Yankees collaborated to use their social media sites to message their fans about gun violence during the game. Maybe, just maybe, the silent winter of sport is finally starting to thaw.