So I happen to enjoy talking about both sports and politics, which is why I found the chat with Swin Cash after practice yesterday interesting. I think it's somewhat misguided to suggest that athletes are somehow separate from public life -- in reality, they're at the center of public life, if only because so many millions of eyes watch them. But more importantly, as Cash suggested, they are stakeholders in the direction of our society that should indeed contribute and I think that Dave Zirin of the Nation makes an excellent point in saying that if they have the platform they should use it as a place to spark public dialogue about the things that matter.
However, there is also the matter of matching words with actions that I have discussed previously with Bethlehem Shoals and that becomes a bit more dicey with athletes. As the Seattle Times documented quite well in a series about athletes and charities a few years ago, there is sometimes a gulf between their visions and reality. That's a much larger issue and I think the Times's presented a very insightful evaluation checklist for understanding whether an athletes actions are indeed effective.
A big concern of mine is always how to find more spaces for dialogue and if doing it through sports engages people, as suggested by Zirin, I'm all for it. And what I appreciate most about Cash's perspective is that she's willing to use her platform for both dialogue and to get things done. The question still remains though how we can establish these dialogues across differences on matters of race, such as in the recent controversy over Shirley Sherrod. What will it take for people to engage honestly and productively around these issues in ways that help us all in the ongoing project of making our society better?
Rinku Sen recently wrote an outstanding piece about the Shirley Sherrod situation that I believe articulates some of the problems we face when we discuss things such as race. Like literally, I got halfway through, exhaled, and said, "Thank YOU!" And the central piece of this situation is not only that we clearly misunderstand big issues like race, but also that we can't even begin to engage these things with out a bit of thought, willingness to listen, and at least minimal effort to comprehend nuance. All of that certainly takes more than banging out 140 characters of snark and shouting down detractors. While the Cash article focused on a tweet, I sometimes wonder if the speed and brevity of technology enhanced communication is in fact a detriment.
Click the link above to see the article on Swin Cash from SBN Seattle.