“How do I explain this to my young boys???” Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade tweeted after the verdict was read. “These tears right now in my eyes are for Trayvon’s family, for my nephews for my unborn son (God willing) this is so hard to bare!” the Chicago Sky’s Swin Cash posted. Former heavyweight boxing champion Lennox Lewis ended a series of tweets with, “Some act like America is colorblind. The reality is its NOT. My son also looks like Trayvon and we also have a home in FLA.”
These are men and women who have supposedly reached the pinnacle of mainstream society: they are rich, they are famous, they endorse every day products aimed at both black America and white America. But at the end of the day, they are still black, and the entire Trayvon Martin episode proved to them – and should prove to us – that they haven’t been truly accepted at all. They still have to teach their children different lessons than their white teammates, and white parents, do. They still have to remember those same lessons themselves. Any of those men and women know that they could have been and could still be Trayvon Martin; that, at some point, their child could be too.
That African Americans, and young black men in particular, face a different world and different basic reality than the rest of us isn’t a revelation to them and shouldn’t be to people of any other race either. These athletes put up with subtle and not-so-subtle racism and racial realities in their sports with regularity, and they know that economic success doesn’t purchase social capital, that they are still subject to racial abuse that labels them “thugs” or worse, that no amount of money or fame can make them truly equal in society’s eyes to the white owners for whom they work and the white fans who cheer for them on the court or field but don’t truly respect them as people. If you doubt that to be the case, check the Twitter replies to athletes, the conversation about black athletes on social media, the comments on articles about them. Check what’s said every time a black athlete asks for more money. Check how they’re portrayed on magazine covers and in the media.
The killing of Trayvon Martin was an injustice, and the response from black athletes is an indication of how deep that injustice penetrates. The world’s most established black athletes know that, accepted as society may sometimes try to make them feel, they too could have been, could still be, and in many ways already are Trayvon Martin. And if mainstream society, if white society, doesn’t respect them fully as people, how could it have ever accepted Trayvon Martin?