NOVAK: Sports can bring everybody back together

If anyone thought it was going to be easy to fix racial tensions in our country by banning chokeholds, arresting a few police officers or tearing down a few statues, they were sadly mistaken.

After nearly 400 years of oppression, we have a long hard road ahead of us. I think we have taken a few steps in the right direction, but it seems like for every two steps forward we take another one backward.

For every police department that vows to rework its practices and tell us that there will be changes, a new video surfaces, or a news network cameraman captures scenes that appear to show the same actions that got us to the breaking point with the killing of George Floyd.

For every state government that says it is going to amend its laws or remove statues that people deem racist, we read about a young black man being hung from a tree in California, or a noose being found in the garage of NASCAR’s only black driver Bubba Wallace.

This, my friends, is not progress.

One thing I know can bring communities together is sports. High school sports, especially football, have this ability to galvanize a community. People who may not spend much time together during the week join forces on Friday nights. They sit shoulder-to-shoulder cheering for their home team against a common enemy.

No one cares if they are black, white or brown. They become Ranger Blue or Dowagiac Orange and Black or Niles Blue and Gold. Those are the only colors they see. I wish we could figure out a way to transfer that emotion to our everyday lives. It would be great to pull together like that to fight everyday causes such as homelessness, hunger and illiteracy.

Those are the fights we need to be focused on. I would love to be able to fix racism. If we could do that, many of our other problems would be fixed at the same time. Then we could take on other fights such as cancer or COVID-19.

It is time we put the full-court press on racism. We need to tackle it, bring it to the ground and eradicate it. I have read and heard people, both black and white, say that it will take baby steps. The time for baby steps is over. We have had 400 years of taking baby steps. Where has that gotten us?

It is time to take a big swing at it. Make radical changes to our lives and our laws to combat racism. No more can we stand on the sidelines and hope somebody steps up and helps make a change. We all need to step up and make a change. We can start with our own lives. We can start by helping our neighbors of color get out from under the shadow of racism.

There are simple things we can do. Much like with domestic violence, we need to call out racism when we see it. Much like with banning cigarettes in public places, we need to push racism back into the dark corners from which it once lived.

We need to keep marching. We need to keep protesting. But we also need to stop looting and destroying property. That only muddies the message. We need to stay on point with the message that we will no longer stand for this.

Change comes in many forms. We need to start electing people of color to our local and state governments. That is where true change begins in the first place. Then we need to send them to Lansing and on to Washington.

But laws can only do so much. It will be up to us to change how we feel in our hearts and minds. Racism is not something you are born with. You see the proof of that every day when people of all colors play together on a playground, work together in a classroom and band together as a family on a football field, basketball court, soccer pitch or a baseball/softball diamond.

Racism is learned. It is time we cut that class from our curriculum.

As the late John Lennon said:

“You may say I’m a dreamer

 But I’m not the only one

 I hope someday you’ll join us

 And the world will be as one”

Scott Novak is sports editor for Leader Publications. He can be reached at scott.novak@leaderpub.com.