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Gallant: Why especially now we must listen to athletes’ perspectives

Members of the Seahawks sit during the singing of the national anthem before a game in 2017. (AP)

The last couple of days of last week really depressed me. Isolation, COVID cabin fever, and a country that based on social media seems to be tearing itself apart. I saw all that, and I told myself, “Forget this, I’m taking a couple of days to unplug” this weekend.

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But I couldn’t completely unplug. Because things kept happening. Like a Black Lives Matter march outside of my apartment on Capitol Hill late on Friday. Followed by a seemingly peaceful dispersion of said march by Seattle Police. Hearing about riots in downtown Seattle the next day, followed by a phone push notification about a 5 p.m. curfew. More riots and destruction Sunday.

A couple of days later? I’m more bummed out. And not just because I’m finally realizing that an idea that I used to hold – that our country had made some (though not nearly enough) progress towards racial equality since the 1960s – was wishful thinking. I felt like a wuss for needing to “check out” from all these sad stories. After all, for black Americans, stories like this have become a regular thing.

Worst? I felt, and still feel, USELESS.

I’m a paid talker. It’s my job. And though I largely just want to make people laugh, I feel a social obligation to be some sort of mediator during times of great division. But what can I actually say right now?

I’m white. I’ve lived in five states and have lived on all three coasts. Considering I’m 31, I think that gives me more perspective than most. But ultimately, I still don’t know a thing.

I guess I could explain that THIS is why Colin Kaepernick did what he did back in 2016. Nearly four years later though, what’s the point? If you didn’t listen then, are you really going to listen now? What am I doing other than pointing out the obvious? And by pointing out the hypocrisy of all those people angry about flag disrespect, what am I really doing other than being divisive?

I know what I can’t do. I can’t say I’ve been scared of a random person attacking me either verbally or physically because of what I look like. Or that I’ve been scared of a police officer for the same reason. I’ve never grown up hoping that things will change, all the while being told by my parents that “progress is slow,” only to ultimately tell my children that “progress is slow.” I’ve never been scared for my life because someone who looks like me was killed for no reason. What I do know? Those are real day to day experiences for black people in our country.

Talking head dummies like myself get told to “stick to sports” whenever we start talking about things like this. Maybe that’s a good thing. For the most part, we’re barely informed more than the average person on the sports we talk about on a daily basis. We just love them.

Athletes get the same kind of treatment when they speak out themselves, getting rhetoric like “shut up and dribble” thrown at them. It must be an infuriating feeling. “You cheer for me when I score, but when I speak out about things happening to my friends, family, and community, you’re angry with me? Why?”

The more I think about it, the more it puzzles me. Don’t athletes, many of whom grow up overcoming extreme obstacles to eventually earn lucrative contracts, have some of the most incredible perspectives possible?

How many people eventually earn the means to do truly incredible things for their communities? Athletes sure do. Look at some of the causes local athletes are a part of!

How many people in our country truly get to see both sides of our great economic divide? Athletes do.

How many people know that no matter their means, they’re ultimately looked at differently because of the color of their skin? Black athletes sure do.

For whatever reason, there are many people who become incensed whenever an athlete weighs in on something they’re not expected to. I’m sure there are many reasons for this. The stereotype of the dumb athlete. The idea that a person isn’t as informed on something outside their area of expertise as they believe they are (which does happen from time to time). And in other cases, it might be due to deep-seated feelings of… you know what.

To those people who put their fingers in their ears, their head in the sand, or try to yell loudly over these athletes, I’ve got a question: What’s wrong with listening to someone passionately explaining their own experiences? Their own truths? And why is it so hard for you to try and put yourself in their shoes?

I know I can’t do a lot of things right now. But I know after this long pontification that there’s one thing I’ll do for sure when I hear people like Tyler Lockett, L.J. Collier, DK Metcalf, Quandre Diggs, Duane Brown, Jordyn Brooks, David Moore, D.J. Fluker, Doug Baldwin, George Fant, Richard Sherman, Ray Roberts and Gabe Marks speak out on something that I can’t hope to know anything about.

I’ll listen. I hope you will too.

Follow 710 ESPN Seattle’s Paul Gallant on Twitter.

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