From the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a speech entitled, “Normalcy, Never Again.” It is famously known as King’s “I Have A Dream” speech. The part where King repeats “I have a dream” is what’s known as a whoop (pronounced hoop) in Black Baptist preaching circles. This style of preaching shows the minister giving instruction on a particular topic. The early part of King’s speech is a historical and economic lesson on race in America. His whoop is aspirational, meant to inspire the listener to rise above and grow beyond the facts he presented earlier in the sermon.
If King had given this same speech in a church setting, he would have opened the doors of the church and invited the audience to come to Christ by a letter from their former church, as a candidate for baptism, or by Christian experience. For most of the last 55 years, activists, scholars, politicians and citizens of all stripes have asked the question, “Has Dr. King’s dream been realized in America?” The answer is no. Full stop. No qualifier. In many ways, we’re not trying anymore. No one asks about Dr. King’s dream being realized these days. We don’t even give the obligatory and often patronizing markers of progress. Americans have become dangerously tribal. Our country is like the most crazed fans of our favorite sports team. It doesn’t matter what happens. It doesn’t matter how we get it done. As long as we win, everything we do is fine.
Dr. King said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” The words sound awesome, but character is hard. What does it say about the character of people who use skin color to decide who moves up, who’s kept down, who’s set free, who’s held captive and who lives or dies?
Colorblindness must give way to human-sightedness. We have to see people as human, not as players on a team to be defeated, but as members of the same team, trying to figure all of this out together. It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white, man or woman, rich or poor, or choose not to check any boxes or wear any labels, I promise you this one thing: As sure as you arrived in this world, you are leaving here. It’s just a matter of when and how. For this reason alone, we are distinctly and inseparably human.
What does any of this have to do with sportsmanship? Everything. At its foundation, sportsmanship is about how we treat people. A football doesn’t care about your integrity. Showing respect to a basketball is just silly. When the trophies tarnish and fall apart, when the stadium lights go out, when our lights go out, the only thing that matters is how we treat each other. Dr. King’s dream will be realized one day, but only when we work as hard to build humanity as we do our bank accounts. Dr. King’s dream will be realized when we value championship character more than a championship trophy. At that moment, we will all hear the liberating sound of freedom…ringing.