It’s hard to talk about much these days without mentioning what happened to George Floyd. So I won’t try to ignore it.

What happened to that poor man is one of the saddest and most tragic things I have ever seen on video, ghastly even. There was no excuse for what Derek Chauvin did to him and anyone with a functioning brain cell shouldn’t look for one because there isn’t any excuse. The response was unanimous – this was murder, plain and simple. Chauvin should never see the light of day again and the other three officers on the scene that day should join him somehow. They did nothing to stop what was a slow murder.

photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. A memorial at the intersection in Minneapolis, Minnesota where George Floyd died while in police custody.

The world has responded exactly the way it should – the looting and rioting not withstanding, of course – but this has galvanized everyone. For the first time, we finally saw close-up exactly what we’ve been told for decades only this time, we’re choosing to listen.

The neighbourhood I grew up in – Malvern in Scarborough, Ont., – is one of the most diverse places on the planet so I was able to immerse myself in so many different cultures: Jamaican, Barbadian, Filipino, Indian, Chinese … you name it. On the flip side, it also showed me just what it meant to get in trouble. I saw police cars at the houses of my non-white friends because the neighbours called them.

I would see my friends later on and ask them what happened. They didn’t know. I was told by my parents to not worry about it and not to get involved because I would get in trouble myself. Whether that was true or not, I’ll never know, but I had that sneaky suspicion even then that the cops were called for rather nefarious – and obvious – reasons.

While we didn’t really have to worry about the police, we did have the block watchers to worry about. You know – the forerunner to the Karens only we didn’t call them Karens back then. We called them something else that rhymes with another word in the English language.

We would gather to play Manhunt – our version of Hide and Seek but with a jail for those who were captured because, well, it was Scarborough in the early 1990s – but I guess we were too loud at 9 p.m. on a Saturday evening. You know, too loud for the people boozing it up in their backyards and who would be going to bed by 10 p.m. and getting up for church the next morning.

(True story: no one who drank in their backyards on my street back then went to church.)

Sure enough, we would get the same few people who would gather around us and scold us for being so loud but their vitriol would be saved for the non-white kids with the fingers pointed straight at their noses. One of the white kids told one of our moral betters to shut up and leave us alone … and you can guess how that went. He was promptly called inside by his parents, followed by the rest of us.

Long story short: we knew it was wrong and we knew that the non-white kids were being tagged because they were non-white. But the cone of silence was the order of the day.

Again, it didn’t involve us, said our parents, so don’t get involved because we’ll get dragged into it and we’ll get in trouble as well.

Well, we’re adults now and I’d like to think we’ve matured a bit. Now we can say it’s wrong out loud. Too bad it wasn’t back at the playground with the original crew so we could stare down the Karens of the neighbourhood from yesteryear and let them know exactly how we feel.

There may be some of you who will look at this and tell me to stick to sports. Alright, then – let’s do that.

We need to take this situation and turn it into a locker room-type of mentality. I first saw the suggestion from Juwan Brescacin, a wide receiver with the Calgary Stampeders.

He posted a lovely diatribe about how a locker room has all sorts of people from all walks of life all working together for a common goal: a championship. You fight with and for your teammates. You support your teammates. If they get hurt, you help them up and you have their back no matter what.
This is what we need to do now.

Drop all the pretense. Talk among ourselves. Learn about each other. Find out what makes us equal. Because the closer we get, the better the chance of us reaching the goal. The goal is some sort of solution to what the problem is and I’m not going to tell you I have the answer. In fact, there isn’t a single person who can come up with the answer. All of us together in the locker room, though, can come up with a solution.

Sport organizations have done a good job in recognizing that calling out someone’s colour, creed, religion, sexual orientation etc. is in poor taste and there are penalties for engaging in such verbal diarrhea. Maybe it’s time to toughen things up on that front.

We can say there’s zero tolerance for anything such as what I’ve listed but forget all this crap about first, second and third warnings. Get rid of them right away. Make them assume a two-strike count … just keeping it sporty, you know.

When it comes to a young child who engages in that trash, you punish the parents. When we’re young, we don’t know anything. All we know is what our parents and supposedly responsible adults tell us. I recall the words of a softball umpire from Alberta I met at an umpires conference in Regina in 2010. We were talking about children – my eldest daughter was one year old then – and he said this: “Show me a bad kid and I’ll show you bad parents.”
Racism at a young age is learned. We don’t come out of the womb uttering racial epithets. We say them because our parents or people who are supposed to be role models say them.

Kids think they’re cool and because children are impressionable, they simply parrot what they hear. It’s not right when the child says it but it’s even worse when the supposedly responsible adult says it. They’re supposed to know better, right?

I’ve spent the last week or so trying to explain to my eldest daughter about what happened. She’s old enough to know what’s going on but still in that stage where she doesn’t fully understand. I’ve done the best I can to try and tell her why what Chauvin did was wrong and why it should never have happened. She knows it was wrong and she knows why people were angry. I just hope that one day, she will truly understand why it got to this point.

We’ve let this fester for far too long and now we’ve seen what happens when the dam breaks. I truly hope George Floyd’s family gets the justice they deserve. Same goes for Ahmaud Arbery, who was hunted down and murdered himself. Same goes for everyone else needlessly killed.
When it comes to my friends, all of whom I’ve lost contact with, please know that I’m sorry.

I’m sorry you had to put up with what you had to put up with.

I’m sorry you had to put up with being looked at as the root of the problem when we made perhaps more noise than you did.

I’m sorry we didn’t speak louder back then.

James McCarthy

After being a nomad around North America following my semi-debauched post-secondary days, I put down my roots in Yellowknife in 2006. I’ve been keeping this sports seat warm with NNSL for the better...

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