When Milt Stegall first saw the footage of Jacob Blake being shot seven times in the back by a Wisconsin police officer, it was because his 15-year-old son showed it to him.
“I could only watch the video once, because I thought it was a scene from a movie. I was like, ‘There’s no way this could be happening again’,” Stegall said. “That’s … how terrorized I was.”
For the sports commentator and former Winnipeg Blue Bomber, it was a reminder of how little has changed since he was growing up.
“I won’t lie and say we’re not making progress, but we still have a long way to go,” Stegall told CBC Up to Speed host Sam Samson.
“I don’t care how much money you have in your pocket, how many degrees you have on the wall, what you do for a living, where you live. It’s scary times being Black in the U.S. right now.”
As professional athletes across the sports world went on strike this week in protest of police violence against Black people, Stegall said it was a reminder of the steps that will be needed to make that progress.
Those protests were also a reminder of the power people have to effect change, even if they aren’t in politics, said Union Station MLA and former University of Winnipeg Wesman all-star basketball player Uzoma Asagwara.
“To me, that sends a clear signal to not just politicians, but everyone, that we can all in our own roles do something to advance human rights,” Asagwara said on Up to Speed.
The actions also invited sports fans who may not have otherwise been involved in conversations about racism to learn more about the injustices Black people face everyday, which could have ripple effects in Manitoba, they said.
“It’s invited a lot of Manitobans into a conversation in a new way, and it’s gotten the attention of folks in an accessible way to talk about these issues,” Asagwara said.
“It’s saying that if you’re a sports fan, then it’s also important that you’re involved and engaged in these political conversations that are impacting the athletes that you love.”
The attention the protests have garnered flies in the face of the pervasive idea that athletes have no place in political conversations — that they should just “shut up and dribble” — said Ogo Okwumabua, who played on the Winnipeg Cyclone professional basketball team.
“[It’s] one of the most ludicrous things from an individual that then will turn around and say … athletes should be better role models,” said Okwumabua, who co-owns local clothing company Zueike Apparel.
“If you’re expecting someone to be a role model for your child or something like that, why would they not have opinions on how things happen in society?”
And critics who say a protest should look a certain way — whether it’s about NBA players refusing to take the court or community members holding signs and chanting at a rally — are missing the point, Okwumabua said.
“When [the] George Floyd [protests] happened and buildings were burning, everyone was like, ‘You shouldn’t protest that way. Why would you do that to your community?'” he said.
“[They] fail to realize no matter which way our people had ever protest[ed], there was never a right way. There’s never been a way that people are, quote unquote, willing to truly accept and listen [to].”
For Stegall, the most important thing now is to keep the momentum going, with actions big and small.
“We’re still a long way, we’re years, maybe decades, away from being treated fairly,” he said.
“But the fact is, we have to continue making baby steps. Otherwise, it’s going to take even longer.”
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