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Etan Thomas to Discuss Activism in Athletics and His New Book at SU

Syracuse University Athletics

SU alum and former NBA player Etan Thomas will give a talk at Syracuse University tonight about athletes' role as activists and their ability to speak out against societal issues like race relations, police brutality, and sexual assault. 

In his recent book, “We Matter: Athletes and Activism,”  Thomas describes recent and past activism in athletics and its perception by the public and the media, informed by both experience and over 50 interviews with notable athletes and figures.  Thomas explains his support for activism by athletes and its history and future.

“I love when athletes speak out.  I love when athletes use their platform, and really, what I wanted to show in this book, was all the different athletes that are doing that in an attempt to really encourage future generations of future athletes to continue on the tradition.”

Thomas focuses on the role of the black athlete in today’s society and the negative attitude both society and media have towards these activist athletes.  This criticism against athletes who voice political and societal concerns, he says, dates back to the sixties.

“There’s this notion of an athlete’s place, especially a black athlete’s place, and you just saw it recently with Lauran Ingraham’s statements of telling Lebron James and Kevin Durant to just shut up and dribble, and that’s kind of been something that has been going on pretty much since the sixties.”

Credit Angelo Cozzi / Wikimedia Commons

He finds hypocrisy in the media that calls for present-day athletes to emulate athletes of the past’s activism. He cites examples such as professional boxer Muhammad Ali’s political activism and Olympic track and field bronze medalist John Carlos’ Black Panther salute in Mexico City.

“The same people who were always criticizing the athletes of today for not being like Muhammad Ali and John Carlos and the athletes of the sixties, those are the same people who started criticizing athletes when they did start speaking out.”

He notes current criticism against athletes’ voicing political views and opinions and standing up for what they believe. But Thomas believes current athletes will be praised for their activism in the future, following the same pattern of activist athletes in the past.

Thomas has published three other books: "More than an Athlete", a collection of poems; the motivational book, "Fatherhood: Rising to the Ultimate Challenge"; and "Voices of the Future", poems and essays by young writers.

“In the sixties, in its hay day, mainstream America didn’t embrace Muhammad Ali and the fact that he was standing up for what he believed in then.  He was kind of hated.  Now, it’s a little bit different looking back, and I honestly think that when we look back fifty years from now, you’re gonna see Colin Kaepernick being spoken of in the same kind of light as Muhammad Ali as far as what he did.  You’re gonna see main stream America pretty much just have a different level of respect for him.”

Thomas played for Syracuse basketball from 1996 to 2000 before being drafted. He played for nine seasons in the NBA for the Washington Wizards, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Atlanta Hawks from 2000 to 2011.

Thomas will be speaking tonight, Monday, February 26, 2018, in Hendricks Chapel starting at 7:00 PM to discuss “We Matter: Athletes and Activism” and discuss the current role activism plays in the athletic community and how activism in the past has shaped our society today.