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Sports Pulse: Athletes have gone to social media to share their feelings about what happened to George Floyd

USA TODAY

Kavon Frazier tried to block out the memory.

“But it was traumatizing,” says the Dolphins safety, who spent the last four seasons with the Cowboys. “I can still remember everything.” 

He can still picture the Carmelo Anthony Oak Hill jersey he was wearing atop red shorts. The police officer pushing him against a wall, wrapping Frazier’s arms around his back, pushing Frazier’s face against the brick wall of Meijer grocery store as the young boy teared up. Frazier’s mom broke away from a conversation with friends about God’s greatness to swear — and it took a lot to make mom swear — at the officers while begging her son not to resist.

Frazier was just 10 years old.

“They thought I was a threat as a 10-year-old,” Frazier told USA TODAY Sports by phone Thursday. “That moment right there changed my life. It made me realize what we’re up against, being a black male in the United States.”

As a child, Frazier says he was “oblivious” to the racial disparity in the country. He attended a Christian school with white and black students, never feeling out of home at the Grand Rapids, Mich. academy. And Frazier played for a police-organized Boys and Girls Club football team.

“So my view of police officers all growing up was all positive,” he says.

Until he found himself resisting the brick wall of Meijer. Watching video of George Floyd dying in police custody outside a Minneapolis convenience store resurfaced those memories. Tears streamed down Frazier’s face when he saw footage of an officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes, 46 seconds. 

Joining a peaceful protest after that vision was a “no-brainer.” Frazier thanks God he didn’t suffer the same fate at age 10.

“When I look back now, I realize I could’ve been one of those people,” he says. “I could’ve been the next hashtag, or one of the earlier hashtags.”

Frazier said he attended a Dallas protest in the days following Floyd’s death, before riots erupted across the country over the weekend. He didn’t document or photograph the experience. But he shared his harrowing grocery-store episode by Twitter that Saturday night and did tweet his support Monday after attending another peaceful protest in Frisco, the North Texas suburb that houses Cowboys headquarters.

“It sucks that we have to protest about this in 2020,” Frazier said. “It’s unfortunate. But a change has to be made.

“It’s spreading awareness because a lot of white people don’t really realize what we go through until we speak up and say it or it’s caught on video.”

Frazier’s hope: that his 2-year-old daughter Kali won’t experience the racism he has.

“We still have a long way to go,” Frazier said, “but I definitely think people’s mindsets are changing.”

‘You’re part of change’

Former NBA player Caron Butler, who protested in Los Angeles, also wrote an essay for The Players’ Tribune. Butler played for nine NBA teams during his 14 seasons in the league.

“I was in the midst of thinking about my grandparents and my great grandparents who grew up in Columbus, Mississippi, who grew up in the cotton fields who were subjected to racism when it was more visible.

“It was not just necessary, but it was paramount that me and my son, 20 years old, Caron Jr., that we went out there and supported and did our part in marching. We’re going to have a seat at the table and drive real change, but it’s important to be there grassroots and feel that pain and that energy. As a father with my son marching with me, I cried, I laughed, I was educated. I was everywhere. I was high. I was low. I was in the gray area.

“At the same time, I know that march and those efforts did not go unnoticed. You know how you walk past a scene or something great, and that’s the reason we travel the world to visit monuments because it’s a certain presence. The presence of the march brought a certain energy that I just felt. They were emotions that I’ve been feeling for quite some time. People were feeling the overwhelming emotion of being set free in real time in that space. It was therapeutic for a lot of people because you’re part of change. We know people are being inspired. It’s important to continue the conversation.”

Feeling supported by the community

Gabe Osabuohien, a senior forward on the West Virginia men’s basketball team, attended a protest in Morgantown with teammates Oscar Tshiebwe and Taz Sherman and assistant coach Larry Harrison.

“My first instinct was just surprised by the outcome. A lot of people actually showed up to the protest. And then as the protest went on I just felt better and better, more happy about my decision to post it and share every minute, and the march was amazing. The speeches were amazing.

“The sign I had, which the girl who had helped organize this protest, she actually made a sign that said, ‘All lives can’t matter until Black lives matter,’ and that was probably the sign that stuck out to me.

“It was probably the first experience attending any protest of any sort, and anything like this. It’s just something most people in my generation have never experienced.

“It just made me feel so comfortable knowing I’m with the people that are around me every day, they were able to come out to support me and the cause. I feel like with all of us, we were able to get our cause, our message to the public, to the news outlets, to everybody, and I figure that was the most important thing.”

‘A step in the right direction’

Kendall Lamm, who is from Charlotte, N.C. and played at Appalachian State, has played in the NFL for five seasons. He is an offensive lineman with the Cleveland Browns.

“There have been various protests throughout the city. I took part in the one in Freedom Park the other afternoon. It was a peaceful protest. There were people from all walks of life, and we came together. It was beautiful. We had people sharing their stories and being out there for a greater cause, and I enjoyed being a part of that. This is what’s needed to make the changes that we need. It’s a step in the right direction.

“We live in America, and there are things that happen on a day-to-day basis that affects us all. Me being an African-American male, I can relate and I can see when these tragic things take place, it could easily happen to me. I can relate to those people.

“When you get there, you’re thinking about all the things we’re standing for and protesting for and marching. You have a sense of happiness and awareness to see that even during these times of tragedy, it’s bringing people together in ways some of us couldn’t fathom. But at the same time, I was also saddened because it takes certain things like this in the world to take place to bring together this unity. It shouldn’t come to that. At the same time, I was thankful to be a part of people coming together and standing for a real serious cause.”

An emotional ‘die-in’ to honor victims

Butler men’s basketball coach LaVall Jordan attended a protest in downtown Indianapolis and shared a video on his Twitter feed. 

“Participating was impactful. It was encouraging to see so many peaceful protesters from all backgrounds united for justice. Doing the ‘die-in’ to honor victims was emotional. I realize that there‘s much more work to be done to change things but this was an example of how many are willing and passionate about pursuing change.” 

A moment of fear

Four years ago at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Ibtihaj Muhammad made history by becoming the first U.S. woman to compete at the Games wearing a hijab. She won a bronze medal as part of the women’s saber team. 

Muhammad, who grew up in New Jersey, has always been proud to represent the Muslim community, using her platform to speak up.“A lot of people don’t believe that Muslim women have voices or that we participate in sport,” Muhammad said in 2016. “And it’s not just to challenge misconceptions outside the Muslim community but within the Muslim community.  I want to break cultural norms.”

Last week she attended a protest in Los Angeles and wrote about her experience on Instagram.

“It was a powerful moment for us — a moment to express ourselves in response to the senseless killing of our brother George Floyd. We chanted and peacefully walked the streets for hours. There was a group of guys who calmed down any of the protestors who reached their breaking point.

“As we made our way to City Hall, the police barricaded the surrounding blocks, unbeknownst to me. As LAPD choppers circled the sky, the barricade of police in riot gear began to close in. Along with hundreds of other protestors, I was held for hours. We sat and listened to the reports of a different group of people downtown destroying property, as one by one they began to arrest each of us.

“We were zip tied, sat on curbs, put in cages on a bus (yes those prison buses you only see in movies), and taken to the nearest precinct. I can’t began to express the wave of fear I felt when I realized I would be taken into custody and heard the words, “sit down and you will be arrested peacefully.” But what I can tell you is that the fear I felt in that moment didn’t come close to the fear George Floyd felt on that horrific day his life was taken from us.”

Amplifying the message

Olympic fencer Race Imboden has explained what led him to activism, which the world saw on display when he took a knee while on the podium during the anthem at the Pan American Games last August.

At the time, he wrote he was proud to represent his country at the Games in Lima, Peru. “My pride however has been cut short by the multiple shortcomings of the country I hold so dear to my heart. Racism, Gun Control, mistreatment of immigrants and a president who spreads hate are at the top of a long list.”

Imboden shared photos on Instagram from a protest he attended in Los Angeles and a poignant video explaining why he went. 

“I started with private conversations. Those private conversations became public conversations about racism. Those public conversations became statements, tweets, posts. And those posts, tweets became actions — small, hidden, like donating and support. But now I’ve moved on to public action. I hope that represents progress.

“Today’s protest was not completely peaceful. It did turn violent.

“But I understand, and I give space for that anger, because I am a white privileged man. These actions do not affect me.

“We need to understand that we do not understand. We need to stand up but we need to take a step behind.

“We need to put our hand on the shoulder and amplify the message that the black community wants because they have been screaming it for years and have been unheard.”

‘An example to others’

Former Michigan football player Grant Perry, shared a photo of a protest in Ann Arbor, where head coach Jim Harbaugh walked with some of his current and former players.

“It was amazing seeing so many people of all ages and races come together today. Especially our younger generation, and along with our players, it truly was a wonderful sight to see and be a part of. Everyone demonstrated a very respectful protest. The chants and messages said aloud made for an (uplifting), powerful, and moving atmosphere. I believe the players/ coaches that were there set a great example to others within the community. Football is football. What this community walking in the crowd today showed was bigger than any game. It’s about coming together no matter your race is and working for a solution to the problem.”

‘We must love each other’

Coco Gauff, the 16-year-old American tennis star, she wants change to happen now

Gauff gave a passionate speech during a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in her hometown of Delray Beach, Florida, this week.

“I think it’s sad that I’m here protesting the same thing that (my grandmother) did 50-plus years ago,” Gauff said. “So I’m here to tell you guys that we must first love each other no matter what. We must have the tough conversations with our friends. I’ve been spending all week having tough conversations, trying to educate my non-black friends on how they can help the movement.”

Contributing: Analis Bailey

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