Turning off all Florida sports
The first game of the NFL preseason and I couldn't watch the television.
Miami Dolphins versus Dallas Cowboys. The bad taste of Florida from the George Zimmerman acquittal was still in my mouth. And although the Dolphins had nothing to do with what happened, I couldn't endorse with my time and support (even though I'd love to root against them Cowboys) anything connected to the Sunshine State.
So I pushed the power button on the remote. Flat screen black.
Then the other day, Trayvon Martin's father, Tracy Martin, was named honorary captain of the Florida A&M University football team. FAMU football coach Earl Holmes showed the power sports has in healing. Not just for one man, but in all of us.
Still something deeper lingered. That bad taste. A dissonant echo.
"The truth is that -- for those of you who've lost in the battle for justice, wherever that fits in any part of the world -- we can't bring them back. What we can do is we can let our voices be heard. And we can vote in our various countries throughout the world for change and equality for everybody. That's what I know we can do. … I decided today that until the 'Stand Your Ground' law is abolished in Florida, I will never perform there again. As a matter of fact, wherever I find that law exists, I will not perform in that state or in that part of the world." -- Stevie Wonder, July 14
When is it right to take a stance?
Wonder's maligned and seemingly misunderstood words kept swirling through my head. Having sleepovers in my heart. I felt the same way he did in that there was some ground I too needed to stand on that reflected the disappointment and discouragement I continued to feel since the verdict July 13.
Right or wrong, I felt the need to do something instead of sitting back as if nothing that happened mattered. My family and I had already taken all universities and colleges from Florida off of our list of potential schools where we are going to send our son, but that wasn't enough.
I then got into a conversation with a friend of mine about the Miami Heat three-peating. As a basketball fan and sportswriter, I was all in. But the human side of me couldn't care less. Not that I want the Heat to lose, I just have no interest at all if they win. I can't repeat the words here that I eventually said in response, but to make a short story shorter: I'm through, done, over with Florida and every sports entity, program, organization represented by the state.
No rooting for, pulling for, watching, investing any time or money or sweat equity in all sports coming out of Florida. Yes, I know some will call this ignorant, misguided and something only Kanye would do. But for me it's a necessity. Not an urge impulse or something I haven't thoroughly thought through.
No more wanting FSU to stay in the national BCS title hunt, no more feeling bad for the Orlando Magic's steady decline into the NBA abyss, no more searching high schools for the next Vince Carter or Kenny Boynton, no more emotional support for any of the legendary baseball programs, no more wanting Billy Donovan to win the SEC, no more support for the Marlins to repeat what they did in 1997 and 2003.
Look, no state is perfect. Most are far from it. Florida is not the only place in these United States that has laws in place that stand on and for the same exact premise/law that is at the center of my boycott. "Stand Your Ground," "No Duty To Retreat," "Line In The Sand" or variations of this law exist in 30 other states. I get that. But nothing as polarizing as the Martin/Zimmerman incident has happened outside of Florida and turned into a national debate. The verdict should be a battle cry that forces the citizens of a nation to once again look at ourselves in the mirror and come to another conclusion on what we see.
And Florida in 2005 was the first to pass the law. Which means it is as good a place as any to start with my boycott.
Every movement -- whether minute or monumental -- has to begin somewhere and someone or something likely will suffer collateral damage. The state of Florida – everything other than the legal code -- is not at fault here; the sports teams of the state are not the villains here either. But they are the collateral victims.
The irony is the same conceptualization can be applied to the entire Trayvon Martin case: The verdict was the result of a legislative cause, one tragic, unanticipated result of a debate about laws much bigger than a fight between two individuals.
My boycott is a decision made in the wake of an incident, a death, a trial, a verdict. (Note: Although SYG was not used as a line of defense in the trial, it was used as part of the instructions to the jurors, who used it to determine self-defense, and was cited by a juror in explaining their not-guilty verdict. So it did play a role.) That the Miami Heat players sent a message of solidarity to his family by taking a group photo of themselves in hoodies after Trayvon's death and an HBCU understood how important it was to reach out to Tracy Martin to send a similar message after the verdict speaks volumes. I needed to send a message, too.
I already have a bunch of friends from Florida who feel differently. I expect more after the posting of this column.
Although Florida native/resident and host of ESPN's "Highly Questionable" Dan Le Batard feels there's justification for such actions. "You are neither stupid nor uninformed," he said in response to an email I sent to him pre-warning him of my boycott. "Although you are going to have to boycott a lot more states than Florida if it is the law that you are protesting. The ruling came on the edges of the law, but it could have happened in a lot of other states with the same law. That said, I don't blame anyone who boycotts our economy over that law and ruling. The verdict felt racist, and our laws fed and fueled, made that racism somehow legally justifiable."
Stand for something or fall for anything. That's the creed many of us have been taught to live by. It's just one of the few moral principles and codes left to us by Dr. Martin Luther King, who believed that sometimes it is necessary to follow your heart instead of doing what your mind may tell you is universally worthless and unwinnable.
Here's the hopelessness in all of this: It means something but will accomplish nothing. My little divestment from all things Florida sports won't change anything or have any significant ripple effect on the world of sports. There will be no mass following; more will disagree with me than agree.
I'm not from Florida so my investment isn't high, and this isn't South Africa in the apartheid era, so my actions aren't clear. Yet, I'm the same person who refuses to watch the Masters until they change their policy toward women members (to me, the additions so far are tokens), who took a stand that I still hold today against Notre Dame over the difference in treatment it executed in the departures of Ty Willingham and Charlie Weis, who in 2007 stopped filling out NCAA brackets because I feel they are counterintuitive to the essence of March Madness. Why change now?
This is my Yasiel Puig swing at taking a stance while using sports as the scapegoat. As a sportswriter and fan, sometimes that's all we have.
I realize in the end this gesture might only make me feel better about myself. As if I've done something.
More important, it won't leave me feeling as if I did nothing.