Sports in 2020 gave us year of much-needed racial dialogue

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  • Programming note: Watch "Race in America: A Candid Conversation" Friday, Jan. 1 at 10 p.m. on NBC Sports Bay Area.

Longing for a semblance of political sanity amid America’s traditional cultural maladies, many of us were simply trying to endure the anticipated tumult of an election year when we were struck by a bolt of lightning.

The COVID-19 illness reached full pandemic stage in March, throwing a heavy international blanket over our daily lives, including the respite that is sports.

Then, on May 25, another lightning bolt: A White Minneapolis police officer kneeled and dropped his knee into the neck of a Black man named George Floyd and kept it there, live and in vivid color, for nearly nine minutes, until Floyd stopped breathing and died face down on the street.

This occurred a few days after the FBI opened an investigation into the death of Breonna Taylor, a Black Louisville EMT killed in her home by Louisville police officers, who entered by no-knock warrant searching for someone else.

Those incidents flipped an international light switch. Suddenly, every sighted soul on earth could see what oppressed Americans have been seeing and discussing for centuries. Millions around the globe, all races and sexes and ethnicities, were compelled to express disapproval that generally was met with zealous guardians of the status quo.

Out of this came two developments that work in tandem. More Americans decided to educate themselves, which led to far more dialogue between different races and ethnicities.

We at NBC Sports Bay Area decided to participate, which led to the creation of “Race in America: A Candid Conversation.” A compilation of the 2020 shows will be shown Friday night at 10 on NBC Sports California, with subsequent showings on both NBCS California and NBCS Bay Area.


Our weekly discussions, usually in a roundtable format, featured more than four dozen guests in the months since early June. We’ve had Hall of Fame athletes (including Reggie Jackson, Chris Mullin, Gary Payton) and at least one future Hall of Famer (Charles Woodson). We’ve had coaches and managers (including Alonzo Carter, Jarron Collins, Gabe Kapler, Steve Kerr, Lloyd Pierce).

We’ve had current players (including Arik Armstead, Evander Kane, Tony Kemp, Bruce Maxwell) and former players (including Matt Barnes, Doug Christie, Brian Johnson, Shawn Kemp, Dave Stewart, David West, Dontrelle Willis). Sacramento Kings chairman Vivek Ranadivé joined us for an episode.

We’ve also had media personalities (including Howard Bryant, Cari Champion, Ebro Darden, Ros Gold-Onwude, Mark Jones, Rachel Lindsay, Taylor Rooks, Steve Wyche), academics (Dr. Laura E. Gomez, Dr. Ameer Loggins) and even a congressman who ran for president (Rep. Eric Swalwell).

The purpose of our show is much the same as the purpose of life’s most admirable pursuits. To learn and grow and be a better human and, therefore, contribute to a better society.

We’ve discussed the widespread demonstrations for racial justice, the significance of a multicultural movement, voting rights and suppression, racism and sexism in the workplace, the effects of police brutality and the response of the sports community – and more.

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And, naturally, we discussed the impact these issues had on sports, including actions taken and plans for the future.

“Race in America: A Candid Conversation” will continue for the foreseeable future, as will these issues. Here is a sampling of comments made over the past seven months:

“We're at a point in society where we've got to shift. We can't continue to kick this thing down the field and think that some other generation is going to do it. We've got to make a choice, right now, to structurally change this nation in a way that the outcomes of situations like this ... doesn't mean that you die.” -- West, on the death of George Floyd.

“I got to a point ... where I didn't feel like tweeting anymore. I felt like, ‘What is my Instagram post doing right now?’ And I was like, ‘What can I do?’ I wanted to get out of the frustration and into action. So, I actually got out on some of the early protests.” -- Gold-Onwude, on the global protest movement.

“It really could have been me, you, our friends. I mean that wholeheartedly. It could have been any Black person, and I think we've probably known that for years. We've known that since Trayvon Martin, since before that. This is something that we know, right? But I just don't know how you can be silent about something that A) has already caused a black person to be dead but B) that can likely cause more black people to die. And I think we should all be screaming as loud as possible to end this, to make it better.” -- Rooks, on the toll of Black men and women unjustly killed by law enforcement.


“My father fought for this country. Us, as African Americans. And that's why I get upset. We've given everything to this country -- not only in sports but in politics. Everything. We've given everything in this country. How dare you tell me that I can't speak up, especially if I’m educated on that. Or if i want to be educated on that.” -- Willis, responding to the oft-used phrase, “Stick to sports.”

“It's OK to recognize the players' humanity. It's OK to recognize what they're discussing and still enjoy their athleticism and the entertainment that's happening. You can do both. If you insist on not recognizing their humanity, it probably says more about you than it does about anybody else. I think there's a way forward with all of this, and that is players, coaches and organizations really getting involved on the ground trying to help our communities. Fans recognizing that this is all part of society. Sports is a huge part of society.” -- Kerr on ‘fans’ that criticize sports figures willing to address society.