Anquan Boldin’s retirement from the NFL puts him on the front line of a new wave, athletes dedicated to justice and equality, a group destined to grow from dozens to hundreds and maybe even thousands.
Others are with him. Including a Cleveland Browns tight end named Seth DeValve.
In the days before Boldin announced his retirement Sunday, two significant multiethnic demonstrations took place prior to NFL preseason games. A national anthem protest by Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett, a black man who remained seated, was visibly supported by center Justin Britt, a white man. The same with two Eagles, with defensive lineman Chris Long placing one hand on the back of teammate Malcolm Jenkins, who raised his right fist.
On Monday night, one day after Boldin announced his retirement, 12 Cleveland Browns gathered behind the sideline and formed a prayer circle during the anthem. Five more stepped back and stood with them.
One of those who stood alongside, punter Britton Colquitt, is white.
Among the kneeling was DeValve, believed to be the first white player to take a knee during the anthem.
The illuminative events of Charlottesville have influenced many folks in sports and beyond to convert thoughts to action. The sight of folks with swastikas and torches brazenly marching through an American city chanting hatred and engaged in terrorism -- and subsequently receiving support from the current President -- is mobilizing athletes previously mute or nestled blissfully in ignorance.
It had been 54 years since America was subjected to such a massive, blatant and violent display of bigotry. When a white supremacist police chief in Alabama attacked peaceful protesters with snarling dogs and full-blast fire hoses in 1963, the imagery led to such national outrage that the Civil Rights Act was conceived. It was a step toward equality, if not justice.
It has been 10 days since America saw the horrors of Charlottesville, violence that came with images and resulted in at least one death and numerous injuries.
Many of those who failed to understand the depth of our injustice -- or were utterly blind to it -- are coming to grips with a historical truth among people of color that racism exists. Always has. If you have a conscience, it strikes straight to the heart.
Days after Bennett stated that the fight for racial justice among NFL players would be more effective if white players joined in, there was Britt, with a hand on Bennett’s shoulder during the anthem but also tweeting a Benjamin Franklin quote: “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”
And there was DeValve, suitably outraged, joining the fight.
“I wanted to support my African-American teammates today who wanted to take a knee,” said DeValve, whose wife is black. “We wanted to draw attention to the fact that there are things in this country that still need to change. I myself will be raising children that don’t look like me. And I want to do my part as well to do everything I can to raise them in a better environment than we have right now.”
Prior to Charlottesville, we’d heard from three NBA coaches expressing their concerns about the direction of the country. Since Charlottesville, there has been a fourth, David Fizdale of Memphis, urging the fall of Confederate monuments. Prior to Charlottesville, we’d heard from Stephen Curry and David West, among others. Since Charlottesville, we’ve heard from Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Steve Nash.
Before Charlottesville, college football coaches were generally silent. Since Charlottesville, even southern coaches, like Kevin Sumlin of Texas A&M and Jim McElwain of Florida, are finding their voices for the sake of humanity.
The Boston Red Sox are again considering changing the name of Yawkey Way, a blip of a street named after the man who owned the team for 44 years and ensured it was the last to integrate. One proposal for the renaming is David Ortiz Way, named after the Afro-Dominican slugger who achieved immense popularity in Boston.
The tragedy of Charlottesville is moving more folks in more ways than any of the law-enforcement shootings -- Ferguson, most notably -- ever did. It so touched Boldin that the longtime benefactor couldn’t resist the higher calling.
"Football has afforded me a platform throughout my career to have a greater impact on my humanitarian work, and at this time, I feel drawn to make the larger fight for human rights a priority," Boldin said in a statement to ESPN. "My life's purpose is bigger than football."
Never has a wealthy American professional athlete retired for a reason more noble than that which compelled Anquan Boldin to hang up his jersey -- not even Pat Tillman, who left the NFL for the noble reason of fighting for his country.
Boldin, stirred by the events of Charlottesville, is leaving to fight for humanity.
The statement -- “stick to sports” -- has never seemed so small and out of place, if not downright sophomoric. Boldin is not having it. And, thank goodness, there are legions of high-profile men and women who feel the same way.