John Carlos and Tommie Smith believed the timing was right when they gave the black-gloved salute while receiving medals in the 1968 Summer Olympics.
Former San Francisco 49er Colin Kaepernick believed the timing was right when he took a knee during the National Anthem in 2016.
And Dr. Vernon Andrews believes the timing is right as he releases “Policing Black Athletes: Racial Disconnect in Sports” April 15 — celebrated annually as Jackie Robinson Day.
Andrews was curious for years about the dynamics and disconnect between Black athletes and White fans with his decade-long research uncovering how sports has become, as the book’s press release assesses, “one of the last battlefields for Civil Rights.”
Written as an academic book with a message for mainstream America, the 63-year-old author said that “Policing Black Athletes” is “the missing link in our national discourse on diversity, culture, inclusion, exclusion, protest, and societal rules over Black America.”
“I hope both Black and White readers learn about the other” from reading the 266-page paperback, Andrews said in a Friday morning phone interview.
Despite America’s current division, connections and communications can improve, Andrews said, pointing to now-former Washington quarterback Alex Smith’s acknowledgement of a team meeting last year with Black players to discuss what was the most recent mass shooting.
“He talked about how Black players stood up and how it (the shooting) related to them. And how these grown men who are as mean as anything on the field were in tears in front of him,” Andrews said.
The emotions of the Black athletes undoubtedly altered the thoughts of most of the White players present, Andrews said.
“It would be hard for a player not to change after that,” he said.
In one of the chapters, “Act Like You’ve Been There Before,” the Vallejo resident — and husband of Solano County Supervisor Erin Hannigan — discusses how Black football players had the screws put to them for on-field celebrations. It’s what inspired Andrews to write the book.
In the fall of 1969, he left Hewlett-Packard for graduate school and contemplated the subject of his assigned dissertation “when I noticed that White announcers described Blacks differently” than White athletes, Andrews said.
There would be that catchphrase — “Act like you’ve been there before … sit down and shut up,” Andrews said, noting that the announcer’s description of Black athletes “never had anything to do with hard work.”
“Act like you’ve been there before” is nothing but a taunt, says Andrews.
Basically, it was behave like you’ve had success in life even though opportunity has greatly been denied, Andrews said.
“If there is a crown jewel on the crown of White privilege, that’s it,” he said.
Other topics presented and confronted in the book include: Good & Bad Sportsmanship; Exploring Sports Conduct and Cultural Identity; The Illegal Use of Black Expression: Before and After Muhammad Ali; The Interwove Fabric of African-American Sport, Church, and Community; Some Blacks Don’t Dance and Some Blacks Don’t Shout; How White People Think; and White Homes, Rural Settings and Reflections on Celebration Rules
Andrews, a professor at his alma mater, California State University at Chico, joined thousands in various Black Lives Matter marches last summer, including Vallejo and Washington, D.C.
The purpose of the marches was lost on many White Americans, said Andrews.
“They think Black Lives Matter is just disturbing the peace. It was ‘Same ol’ Black people doing the same ol’ things’ and they missed the message: We want equality and we want equity,” Andrews said. “We’re not asking for a handout. We’re asking for equal treatment.”
Though his book was finished last year, Andrews believed waiting until Jackie Robinson Day and the trial of former officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd was a more viable release date.
“It’s a time where everything kind of stands out. People are galvanized by this trial,” Andrews said.
As with Kaepernick taking a knee — supporters believe he was protesting racism and police brutality, detractors believe he was disloyal to the flag — Andrews said there are those blaming Floyd for his death.
“America sees what it wants to see,” said Andrews, adding that Smith and Carlos experienced even worse attacks at the 1968 Mexico Olympics for their “Black power” salute than what Kaepernick experienced.
“They were also in defiance as many said ‘How dare you? We gave you the right to run and jump and be in the Olympics. How dare you snub us during this National Anthem?’” said Andrews.
Becoming a professor wasn’t high on Andrews’ list growing up near the Oakland Coliseum.
“I played sports and my big dream was to play centerfield or third base for the Oakland A’s,” he remembers.
Andrews hoped to make the Castlemont High School baseball team and move on to pro ball. Neither happened, though his cousin, Gary Pettis, accomplished both.
No matter. Andrews is grateful to be an academic success. And holding that first copy of the book he authored?
“Oh my goodness, it was nirvana,” he said. “It was the moment I had been waiting since the 1970s when I became an English major and had to read other people’s novels. Now I can walk into a bookstore and think, ‘I’m in the club now.’”
“Policing Black Athletes” is available on Kindle and in paperback via Amazon.com or publisher Peterlang.com.
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