OzSpeaks discusses activism, politics in sports

A panel of four speakers discussed the intersection of race, sports and activism in the Marano Campus Center auditorium at Oswego State Wednesday evening.

Last year the quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, Colin Kaepernick, received national attention for kneeling during the national anthem to protest the oppression of people of color in the U.S. This sparked several similar statements by other athletes and discussion regarding race.

As part of the OzSpeaks program, four speakers gave attention to effects of Kaepernick’s statement and opened the floor to students and faculty to ask questions and give their own comments to address the ongoing issue of race in the U.S.

The speakers included Brent Axe from ESPN Radio Syracuse and Syracuse.com, Dr. Bonita Hampton from the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Kenneth Marshall, an American history associate professor, and as the moderator of the discussion, Brian Moritz, a digital media production and online journalism assistant professor.

“I think it’s a really important topic that students can learn a lot from. For a lot of students, you can take an issue that they know about: Sports,” Moritz said. “They care about it. They know about the NFL and Colin Kaepernick, and now that’s used as a springboard to talk about activism, about Black Lives Matter, about race relations and even going deeper than that, how we perceive a black athlete protesting and how we react to that and how that’s portrayed in the media.”

The discussion began with the panelists’ initial reactions to Kaepernick’s statement last year. Marshall described his reaction as thinking it was about time someone with a large public platform such as the NFL took advantage of it to address race. “He has brought race front and center. It is the one topic that most Americans regardless of race, class, gender, political affiliation have much difficulty talking about,” Marshall said. “It is the thing that makes us, but is also the thing that divides us.”

The topic shifted to the culture of society in which Sunday football is considered sacred to many Americans and they want to stick to the entertainment rather than being engaged in politics and societal issues. “We are in a fascinating society where Kaepernick has more avenues to get his point across. I can ignore that, shut off his Twitter feed, I can not read that article or listen to that interview. NFL one o’clock on Sunday, there’s no escaping it,” Axe said.

“Whether you agree or disagree with his actions, it worked because we are here a year later still talking about it.” After much discussion from the panelists, the floor was opened up to students and faculty of varying viewpoints. Topics that were brought up included the Blue Lives Matter movement in relation to the Black Lives Matter movement, double standards in regards to patriotism and how the meaning of the national anthem and the nation’s flag can mean different things to everyone.

A large part of the discussion included how Americans view the flag due to different experiences and histories and that everyone experiences differing emotions toward the national anthem and the flag. According to Axe, there is no one thing that the flag stands for, noting that some see pride and joy and others see pain and oppression.

“The flag is bloodied and I’m trying to rinse it,” Marshall said. Oswego State student Tyler Singleton spoke of false perceptions of black celebrities in contrast to everyday black Americans. This sparked a discussion regarding institutional racism in sports and stereotypes of black athletes.

“People like to speak about things they are comfortable about so I feel like in essence the conversation was informative, timely and relative to everything we are facing right now,” Singleton said.

Following the panel discussion, Hampton reflected positively on the turn out including the attendance and the content of the conversation. “This to me was a wonderful opportunity to hear what other people think about these particular issues, especially our students. This place was packed with students and I love that,” Hampton said.

Photo: Taylor Woods | The Oswegonian