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THE CHEAP SEATS with STEVE CAMERON: Athletes definitely should not 'shut up and dribble'

| August 28, 2020 1:15 AM

Conservative TV personality Laura Ingraham once dismissed athletes as a bunch of dumb jocks.

Specifically, she backhanded a comment by Lakers superstar LeBron James, who had mentioned that a racial slur was painted on his home.

James went on to say that President Trump did not “understand the American people.”

That was too much for Ingraham, who scolded James for talking politics and suggested that he “should shut up and dribble.”

As we now know, LeBron declined that offer.

Quite the contrary.

James and countless other athletes have had plenty to say these days.

They’re also letting a sudden silence speak loudest of all.

Boycotts of games in various leagues and even a tennis tournament were jump-started by the Milwaukee Bucks, in response to the violence in Kenosha, Wis.

The number of teams and individuals in multiple sports probably shocked everyone, from league commissioners to fans with nothing to watch at home.

Refusing to play was a line that no one believed players would dare to cross.

Yet they’ve trampled over the line in droves.

THE MAIN driver this week was the horror in Kenosha.

A police officer appeared to shoot a Black man, Jacob Blake, seven times in the back.

No doubt you’ve seen the video, which doesn’t become any less horrific with multiple viewings.

Then, as an uproar engulfed Kenosha, a 17-year-old vigilante apparently fired his automatic weapon often enough to kill two protestors.

The Kenosha deaths seemed to echo that tragedy in Minneapolis, where another police officer stands accused of murdering a handcuffed and helpless George Floyd.

Black athletes have led the pushback to these latest deaths, once again speaking out about racism that they believe has infected many law enforcement agencies.

Next…

Just as they did after Minneapolis, white citizens by the millions have joined the protests.

The call for change is getting louder.

This is a good time, though, to note that athletes at all levels — collegians and professionals alike — have decided not to simply shut up and dribble.

Or block.

Or throw fastballs.

Or hit sweet backhands.

Instead, they have begun speaking up and taking control of conversations.

They’ve put leagues, universities, and team owners on the defensive.

Even competitors in the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) have threatened to escape onerous contracts by simply retiring from the sport.

Like their colleagues in all these other disciplines, the fighters are not bluffing.

WHAT HAS truly changed is an attitude.

Athletes have come to realize they possess plenty of clout.

What’s more, they seem more than willing to use it.

A group of Nebraska players is suing the Big Ten for denying them a fall football season — which they argue was a contractual obligation.

Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields agrees that the Big Ten owes its athletes some football, and he’s nearing a half-million signatures on a petition requesting that the conference restore the 2020 season immediately.

Oh, and remember that statement sent to the Pac-12 by a group of conference athletes called #WeAreUnited – demanding better protocols for COVID-19 testing, among other things.

YES, THAT whole affair got knocked off-kilter when the Pac-12 announced that all sports were off until at least Jan. 1 — but obviously, we know that plenty of players are willing to get involved in attempting to steer conference affairs.

We shouldn’t forget the long battle over “Name, Image and Likeness,” college athletes’ rare opportunity to make money because they’re well-known.

The NCAA is currently crafting regulations to cover NIL income, years after the whole notion came to prominence via a lawsuit initiated by former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon.

So, what’s the bottom line here?

Right now, dealing with systemic racism nationally is the most meaningful — and historic — battle that athletes have signed up to fight.

However…

It’s not likely to be the last.

Email: scameron@cdapress.com

Steve Cameron’s “Cheap Seats” columns appear in The Press on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. “Moments, Memories and Madness,” his reminiscences from several decades as a sports journalist, runs each Sunday.

Steve also writes Zags Tracker, a commentary on Gonzaga basketball, once per month during the offseason.