This past weekend, for the first time in months, the nation’s attention shifted away from the COVID-19 pandemic. Discussions about face masks, testing, and reopening businesses quickly shifted to a fervent, open dialogue about race and police brutality in America following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Long Beach was very much a part of this national discourse, culminating in thousands of residents hitting the streets last Sunday to peacefully protest through Downtown Long Beach.
While the sports world sits on the figurative sidelines amid the global shutdown, Long Beach’s athletes, coaches and administrators took to social media to voice support and offer their perspective on the protests happening across the country. Some of the biggest names in Long Beach sports made their voices heard over the weekend, including Poly football legend Willie McGinest, whose daughter, Rylie, is a standout on the Jackrabbits’ girls volleyball team.
“Through peaceful protest we can make our voices heard, and those with larger platforms cannot stay silent right now,” said Willie McGinest in a statement posted on Twitter. “We MUST speak up and use our influence to help create change. This is bigger than any one individual and WE have to DO BETTER.”
Billie Jean King, another Jackrabbit legend who went on from her tennis career to become an activist and champion for equal rights in America, joined McGinest in her support for the protests.
“The anger & frustration being expressed in the George Floyd protests all over the U.S. are palpable,” she tweeted. “Every single person must commit to the hard work of addressing racism. This work begins by listening to the life experiences of people whose lives look nothing like your own.”
Current professional athletes also spoke up about the protesting on Sunday. Lakewood baseball alum JP Crawford, now a member of the Seattle Mariners, tweeted out “THANK YOU LONG BEACH” on Sunday night.
“Love the way my city showed up today to peacefully protest,” said Jordan Bell on Twitter. Bell went from Long Beach Poly to a career in the NBA, which included a stint with the Minnesota Timberwolves last season. Bell is no stranger to protests, and in fact drew some controversy back in 2014 while he was a freshman at the University of Oregon. During the pregame national anthem, Bell and teammate Dwayne Benjamin held their hands up to protest the police killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, making them among the first athletes in the country to protest during the national anthem.
Administrators and coaches offered their perspectives via social media as well.
“Thinking of each and every person, especially our LBSU Athletics student-athletes, coaches and staff, who are directly affected each day by profiling & targeting,” Long Beach State Athletic Director Andy Fee posted. “Enough is enough. We are at a crossroads & it’s time to step up & ‘do the right thing’ by ending predatory policing.”
Lakewood football coach Scott Meyer posted a statement directed at his players, offering his outward support. “To my entire team. To my athletes of color. And especially to my black athletes. I stand with you! I demand justice with you. I demand justice for you.”
St. Anthony head basketball coach Allen Caveness took to twitter during the protests on Sunday to express his appreciation for the support he’s seen so far: “Wanna send a special thanks to all my non black colleagues, coaches, admin, parents & students for all of the tweets, posts and comments in support of this movement. The love & support that we’ve been receiving has been overwhelming!! It hasn’t gone unnoticed!!”
Former athletes that participated in the protests posted photos and videos from downtown, along with messages praising the way Long Beach as a community handled the moment.
“Love you Long Beach!” tweeted Dupree Roberts-Jordan, who played football at Lakewood and at the University of Nevada. “People showing love of all races. I’m proud that I was able to be a part of something. Real life shed a team for a second. I want to stress to everyone to stand up for what’s right, but stay safe!”
Former Millikan Ram and current professional volleyball player Sherridan Atkinson penned a similar message to her hometown: “Long Beach I love you. We made history and we’re just getting started. #BlackLivesMatter.”
As peaceful protest eventually devolved into looting across the city on Sunday night, many of Long Beach’s athletes criticized the looters for taking away from the purpose of the protest.
“The Long Beach protest was peaceful and ruined by a few, looting at the Pike,” tweeted former Poly basketball player Solomon Jones. “They better keep away from family businesses.”
“Jean Machine though? Really?? What was your purpose?” tweeted Millikan basketball alum Tyler Frierson, mentioning one of the initial stores victimized by the looting.
Wilson baseball alum Chris Betts, currently a member of the Tampa Bay Rays organization, defended the protesters for conducting a peaceful demonstration. “When you see the videos of people looting in Long Beach. Just know that the good people of Long Beach did their thing and peacefully protested all day long. Don’t let the news trick you into thinking the 562 was taking from their own. And if they’re from LB we don’t claim em.”
As this past week has shown, the connection between sports and activism is as strong as ever. From Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics to Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem, acts of protest have been part of the sports world for decades. During a time in which there are no games being played, the Long Beach sports community has its eyes on the social issues of the day, and they are making their voices heard.