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A Tale of Two Knees

A few years ago a black football player was blackballed by NFL owners and called a "son of a bitch" by the president for taking a knee to protest police brutality during the national anthem. Last week a white police officer murdered an unarmed black man by kneeling on his neck for over eight minutes, including almost three minutes after the man had become unresponsive.

Something’s wrong here.

Actually, something’s been wrong here for a long time. America is, and in many respects, has always been a racist society.

I was raised in a conservative household. My parents never used the “n” word but referred to blacks as “colored.” I became the first “liberal” in my family. The first to say “black” instead of “colored.” The first to cast a vote for a Democrat or a black man.

My views on race relations were really shaped during my sophomore year at Stanford. As a student assistant in the sports information office and sports editor of the Stanford Daily, I began working closely with black athletes. I also took a sociology class called “Racism and Prejudice.”

We read books by Richard Wright, Malcolm X, and James Baldwin. I coached a basketball team at an all-black school in East Palo Alto. My eyes were opened. I spent a lot of time listening. I talked to a lot of Stanford athletes who had been stopped for “driving while black.”

Then 24 years ago, I was one of the founders of a women’s professional basketball league, the American Basketball League (ABL). Seventy percent of our players were black. As I traveled around the country for the ABL, I saw firsthand that racism was still alive and well in America.

The cities on the coasts were warm to the notion of a women’s pro league dominated by black players. As for the towns in middle America—Columbus is one example—well, not so much.

Whenever I traveled with the other two ABL co-founders, Anne Cribbs and Steve Hams, who are both white, I was treated one way. When I was accompanied by our General Counsel, Rich Nichols, and our Player Personnel Director, Tracey Williams, both of whom are black, I was treated much differently.

Hotel clerks, waiters, flight attendants, cab drivers, ushers and security guards weren’t nearly as hospitable and welcoming. Investors and sponsors were less friendly.

When Barack Obama was elected, my wife and I cried tears of joy. In fact, we bawled like babies. We thought that maybe, finally, things would change.

But it’s only gotten worse. Those who couldn’t stomach the notion of a black president want to “get their country back.” Their bigotry is fanned and fueled by a president who foments hatred and fear, who wants to “Make America White Again.”

Nowadays, in addition to “driving while black” black people must also fear:

Jogging while black

Bird watching while black

Relaxing at home while black

Playing loud music while black

Selling CDs while black

Selling cigarettes while black

Returning from the store while black

Going to church while black

Getting a traffic ticket while black

Cashing a check while black

Getting arrested for anything while black

Reaching for their wallet while black

Walking through a neighborhood wearing a hoodie while black

Trying to breathe while black

That’s just a partial list.

I’m at a loss as to what to say to my black friends right now. Words seem inadequate. I’m afraid I might say the wrong thing despite my best intentions.

But please know that I love you and I stand with you.

Gary Cavalli - Bowl and League co-founder, author, speaker 

Gary Cavalli, the former Sports Information Director and Associate Athletic Director at Stanford University, was co-founder and executive director of the college football bowl game played in the Bay Area, and previously was co-founder and President of the American Basketball League.

Get in touch//@cavalli49//

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