Jordan Binnington struggled — not with what to say, but how to say it.
The Blues goalie normally is a man of few words. But that was not the case in a lengthy Instagram post that decried racism, promised to stand in solidarity with those “fighting for change, equality and justice,” and encouraged young followers on social media to “ask questions, listen, learn and pass your knowledge on to your friends.”
Binnington was among several Blues and Cardinals players to speak out on social media in the last day or two, responding to the racial unrest triggered by the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer one week ago, leading to protests and looting across the country.
On Tuesday morning, the Cardinals’ and Blues’ organizations — in a joint statement under the heading “One Nation” — did the same.
“I will never understand the unfairness, discrimination, prejudice, and inequality some of my black friends, followers, fellow human beings, have faced,” Binnington said on Instagram. “And finally, the realization that remaining silent is no longer tolerable. Over the last couple days, I have learned what it means to be a true ally towards the black community. And going forward, I will fight for what is right.”
Binnington does not stand alone in the St. Louis professional sports community.
Cardinals pitcher Jack Flaherty began his message on his certified Twitter account with the words: “I CAN’T BREATHE.” Below it, under the heading: “Remember the names” he listed eight people of color killed by police officers in recent years.
Flaherty began his tweet in words similar to Binnington, stating that it took some time to gather his thoughts:
“But here it goes ... I have seen the anger and pain that is being expressed daily by my fellow brothers and sisters. First and foremost, I want to say that I empathize with you and I hear your cries for change. I am a mixed person of color, but I have been able to reap the benefits of being white due to the color of my skin.”
Flaherty went on to say he has lived his life through the eyes of a “privileged white male in America.”
In another tweet he said, “what happened to George Floyd and what continues to happen in America is inexcusable.” Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin, now charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter, as well as three accompanying officers, “knew what they were doing was wrong.”
Flaherty continued: “The system continues to fail time and time again and nothing seems to change. Officers are not being held accountable for their actions.”
He urged good officers to speak out, and urged everyone else to “Help make a difference. Use your voice. Support black owned businesses. Educate yourself ... to have a better understanding.”
Not exactly your typical athlete quotes from the locker room. And there were more voices, all posted in the last couple of days.
• Blues defenseman Marco Scandella on Instagram: “To see human beings consistently targeted and victimized as a result of their skin color is heartbreaking and needs to end right now.”
• Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong, on his Instagram account: “I stand for change in this world because what was created 400 years ago should not and will not continue! Like James Baldwin said: ‘Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed unless it is faced.’ I will continue to do my job as a Hawaiian to spread ALOHA wherever I go. I love you all #ripgeorgefloyd.”
• St. Louisan and former Blue Pat Maroon, on his Twitter account, said he respects the “good men and women of law enforcement that use their authority the right way to protect all of our citizens. I will continue to support you.”
He added: “I’m also heartbroken seeing cities that I love burning down including my hometown, but moreso I’m angry at the injustice of George Floyd and the other men and women whose lives were taken too soon.”
• On what was called #BlackOutTuesday, Blues forward Tyler Bozak tweeted out a plain black screen as a statement that black lives matter.
Keep in mind, in the world of pro hockey, the vast majority of players are not very active on social media. And in this instance, the Blues and Cardinals did not “stick to sports.”
The joint statement by the Blues and Cardinals, said in part that their organizations “stand united in support of racial equality for all those who march peacefully to highlight and protest racism, bigotry and violence. There is no place for intolerance in our society.”
Cardinals president John Mozeliak said the Blues and Cardinals decided a statement was necessary to acknowledge an awareness of the importance of what’s going on in St. Louis and the nation. They wanted to make it jointly as they have done in other community-related statements in the past.
"This is a time when so many people are already hurting, and we're dealing with race relations issues that have evolved into protests, some of which have turned violent,” Mozeliak said. “This a sad day; these are sad days.
“I recognize that I do not have the right answers, the right insights, or the right words that will inspire peace. We are all watching what is happening in our country and to our country and I hope that people can share empathy with friends, family, coworkers, and anyone else during these awful times.
"The conversation we are having right now needs to happen, and it cannot end. After the protests die down, this conversation must continue, our awareness must continue, or else none of this has been worth it."
However thoughtful and passionate they may be, are words from pro athletes and statements from pro organizations meaningful? Do they have any impact? Or are they just part of the cacophony of a divided nation in crisis?
“One thing athletes recognize, sports teams recognize, is that they can make an impact by their actions and their words,” said Bob Wallace.
Wallace was a longtime NFL executive with the football Cardinals and Rams, now working in sports law. He’s treasurer of the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis.
“That’s why so many teams are involved in the community because they command attention,” he said. “So when they speak out and give voice to people’s grievances and to discrimination, people pay attention. That’s an important thing.”
He added: “We expect black athletes to speak out against discrimination and racism and that’s important and necessary. But it’s also important and necessary when white athletes speak out about those kind of things.”
Echoing some of Mozeliak’s thoughts, St. Louis City NAACP president Adolphus Pruitt emphasized that speaking out is a good first step. But just a first step.
“Every little bit helps,” Pruitt said. “The question is how much does it move the needle? ... Are their voices resonating with the people who feel they’ve been unjustly treated, and are their voices resonating with the people who have the power to change the conditions?
“That’s where the difficulty comes in because it’s hard to measure. How do we take those voices and turn them into some tangible, measurable outcomes other than providing moral support for the folks who are out there?
“Don’t get me wrong. I’m not diminishing it. Moral support is definitely needed. But we have to move beyond words and turn those words into action.”
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