Let’s talk about race relations and what athletes and coaches have to say about it.


Please, don’t roll your eyes. Don’t start in with “Here we go again with jocks jawing about non-sports topics.” All we’re talking about is talking. Not lecturing. Not politicizing. Just having a two-way conversation, which by definition means we also must listen.


And by listening, we learn.


Things are hot right now. We all can agree on that. But heat is not inherently bad. Fire burns, yes, but it also purifies, removing imperfections. And heaven knows there is a whole lot of imperfection out there. Police. Protesters. Poets and preachers. None is perfect.


The closest we can make sense of it, and hopefully walk it out through sacrificial action and not just “woke” attitude, is by turning to the athletes and coaches who hang out together every day at the corner of black and white. Just know that the corner is not found in Mayberry. Aunt Bee never spoke like this:


“The black community needs our help. They have been unheard for far too long. Open your ears, listen and speak. This isn’t politics. This is human rights.”


Joe Burrow tweeted that on Friday. We applauded when the former Ohio State quarterback from The Plains spoke up for the poor, mostly white folk from Appalachia during his Heisman Trophy acceptance speech. What about now?


You say you love your Buckeyes no matter what. Then you should love these tweets:


“Being a white man, I will never be able to fully empathize with what Black Americans have gone through and continue to deal with in this country. However, I am able to stand beside my brothers and sisters as they fight to not just be heard, but to facilitate tangible changes.” — Danny Vanatsky, Ohio State quarterback.


And:


“I’m sick to my stomach after seeing yet another innocent man’s life was taken. Racism is an evil that is still lurking around. In no way can you justify it. Those of us who don’t experience this discrimination need to speak up. I pray God pulls us out of these very dark times!” – Kyle Young, OSU men’s basketball forward.


And:


“Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” – Ohio State coach football Ryan Day, quoting Benjamin Franklin.


These tweets were posted by white males, which is why I included them. There are many others posted by black players, coaches and administrators responding to the senseless death of George Floyd in Minnesota. Included among them is Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, who eloquently called upon everyone to “make a world where equal justice for all is a reality.”


We mostly fixate on the affected and disadvantaged, but when discussing race relations I find it instructive to first see what the white side of the locker room has to say.


The white side? Does that offend you? It shouldn’t. Locker rooms are not color blind — cultural diversity does not disappear behind closed doors — but thankfully they are color embracing.


I first learned that almost 40 years ago when, after growing up in an all-white town with all-white high school sports teams, I joined the Ohio State track team. Talk about a color-based culture shock. When did a dorm room become a crib and why was my roommate on the road wearing a hair net to bed?


But regardless of skin color, blood is red, sweat is clear and racial barriers blow apart when a white athlete hands a relay baton to a black one. Or looks over to see a darker-hued 400-meter finisher throwing up beside her. That’s why sports are the starting blocks to better understand why we are more alike than different.


Ah, but maybe that sounds too much like lecturing, and I began by insisting this should be more conversation than sermon. So it’s time for more listening, this time to black athletes and coaches.


“We don’t need sympathy, we need EMPATHY. Until WE ALL SHARE the pain that results from racism in its various forms — nothing will change. Instead of labeling, seek to understand.” Ohio State linebackers coach Al Washington.


“Shouldn’t have to fear for my life when I see a police officer.” — Ohio State linebacker Teradja Mitchell.


In a perfect world, race relations should not focus on black or white but golden: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.


We’re not there yet, but sports provides a GPS to lead the way.


roller@dispatch.com


@rollerCD