Fresh off his third NBA championship, Dwyane Wade’s next magazine cover is taking him outside the world of sports. Along with his sons Zion and Zaire, the Miami Heat star will appear on one version of this month’s Ebony magazine. All three don hoodies on the cover, with Zion and Zaire wearing their hoods up in honor of slain Florida teenager Trayvon Martin.
The cover is a powerful statement coming from Wade, who never shied away from the conversation surrounding Martin’s death after George Zimmerman killed the 17-year-old last year. Wade posted Facebook pictures of himself wearing a hoodie shortly after the killing, then posed with his Heat teammates in a similar picture and wrote “We want justice” and “R.I.P. Trayvon Martin” on his shoes during games. After a jury acquitted Zimmerman in July, Wade tweeted, “How do I explain this to my young boys???”
Wade’s is one of four covers for the issue. The others feature Martin’s mother, father, and brother; Spike Lee and his son, Jackson; and actor Boris Kodjoe and his son, Nicolas. According to the Huffington Post’s Julee Wilson, the issue features an exclusive interview with Martin’s parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, a piece that explores how Wade, Lee, and Kodjoe will explain to their sons the realities of racism and growing up as young black men in America, and other pieces about Martin and race in America.
The issue is one of five in Ebony‘s “Save Our Sons” series, and given the magazine’s primarily-black audience, it’s a logical discussion for it to have and continue having in the wake of the Zimmerman trial. But Wade’s appearance on the cover makes me wonder if one of the major sports magazines is kicking itself for not producing a cover like this, or if any of them would have had the gumption to do a deep dive in the different America’s white and black athletes face. Wade wasn’t the only athlete to speak out after the Zimmerman verdict — he was accompanied by dozens of other athletes, most of them black.
As I wrote after the Zimmerman verdict, Wade’s response is indicative of the fact that no matter the social capital he’s gained on the basketball court, his existence as a black man means that privilege doesn’t always follow him when he leaves the parquet. Look at former NFL running back Warrick Dunn, who was pulled over in 2011 for looking like someone “transporting drugs and guns,” or Detroit Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter, who had guns drawn on him by police responding to a malfunctioning alarm system at his home because they didn’t believe he lived there. How often do incidents like that happen to white athletes? How often do white athletes have to explain to their children the inherent dangers of being white in America? How often do white athletes sign online and see a video of a teammate using a racial slur at a concert?
It’s not like mainstream sports rags have shied away from tough topics. Earlier this year, ESPN The Magazine released the “The Taboo Issue,” in which it explored sexuality and LGBT rights in sports through people like Brittney Griner and Kwame Harris. It was a substantive look at a social issue in which sports has lagged behind both law and public opinion. Perhaps because of that delay, sports and the publications that cover them exclusively feel a need to catch up to the conversation, and to establish their bonafides when it comes to equality for LGBT people. The public success of black men in sports, and the wealth they’ve accumulated as professional athletes–Dwyane Wade and Torii Hunter and Warrick Dunn don’t seem like disadvantaged men or as representatives of other disadvantaged men–makes it easier to act as if the battle for racial equality in sports is won. But those are conversations worth having, not just on the pages of a magazine that serves large black audiences but in publications that could challenge audiences who would rather believe that racial inequality is a problem that we’ve solved.