When Marc J. Spears, ’95 Journalism, was first approached about participating in Sport, Activism and Social Change: From Words to Action, a special event launching the Institute for the Study of Sport, Society and Social Change on January 24, he couldn’t say no. As senior writer for ESPN’s The Undefeated, a site that explores sports, race and culture, he is no stranger to the world of athlete activism. He is chair of the National Association for Black Journalists’ Sports Task Force and a member of the Advisory Board for SJSU’s new institute.
“These subjects are near and dear to my heart, and to our site’s heart.”
What does athlete activism look like today?
Two athletes in particular took it to a different level this year. One is the 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and the other is Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony. I had the opportunity to do the first one-on-one interview with Kaepernick since he decided to kneel during the national anthem. I think he definitely was hoping to highlight the unfair treatment of blacks by cops. I applaud him for having the bravery to go out there by himself initially and exercise his right to free speech. While I don’t agree with everything he said politically afterward, I have a strong respect for how much strength he has to go out there and speak his mind, and take the shots that have been sent back to him.
Carmelo Anthony has been strong in social activism for a couple of years, dating back to the Freddie Gray incident in Baltimore. In 2016 he really stepped up by speaking out on police brutality. He started in the spring on Instagram and parlayed that to making a speech with LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Paul at the ESPYS in July 2016. After that, he had a town hall meeting that he hosted in L.A. with U.S.A. Basketball. To me, he is certainly the flagbearer of social activism in the NBA. He has sparked other players to have town hall meetings with cops, social dignitaries and youths.
How do you see this movement evolving?
I’m curious to see how things will go from here. Once the NBA season started, it died off. The NBA players made gestures team-wise that were unified before the national anthem, but there was nothing Kaepernick-like [in terms of public statements about social justice]. The Golden State Warriors were outspoken. Players from other NBA teams have held hands and linked arms, gestures like that. I think that there was an expectation that the NBA would take Kaepernick’s method to the next level, as the NBA is predominantly black.
I wonder now, is the torch that Kaepernick lit being doused?
Why did you decide to be a panelist on January 24?
When I was approached about getting involved with the program, I immediately said yes. With my role at The Undefeated, these subjects are near and dear to my heart, and to our site’s heart. This is Dr. [Harry] Edwards we’re talking about. How can you say no? As an SJSU alumnus, I’m honored to be a part of this.