Something Really Important Happened Here

A photo of Camp Randall

MADISON, Wis. — Something really important happened in Wisconsin last week.

It wasn’t the fact that Kenosha police shot a man seven times in the back. That was important, obviously, but the public debate over police shootings is hardly new.

It wasn’t the violent demonstrations that followed. They were important – if you owned a business that was looted, you know that’s important. But the demonstrations are hardly new.

The action by virtually every active professional athletic team in the nation to withdraw from competition for a couple of days was new and was important.

It was just four years ago that Colin Kaepernick knelt before a football game rather than rising for the National Anthem caused a national uproar – and Kaepernick became the butt of a national hate campaign. But, now, he is no longer alone. The nation’s top athletes have joined him in protesting state killings of unarmed Black people.

So that was new and is important, but here’s what really struck me last week:

Someone asked Barry Alvarez what he thought of the athletic boycott.

I think they sent just the right message,” Alvarez replied. “Things have to be corrected. We can’t continue with this social injustice.”

Of the athletes involved, Alvarez continued, “I’m very proud of them.”

Barry Alvarez is, arguably, the most popular public figure in Wisconsin. He became the Badger football coach in 1990 and revitalized the university’s athletic reputation. He is now the athletic director. There’s a bronze statue of him at Camp Randall. No one wants to tear it down.

Well, this is Madison. Someone probably wants to tear it down, but you know what I mean.

I have no idea how Alvarez votes or what his position on most controversial issues might be.

And that’s just the point. If Barry Alvarez feels compelled to take a public position on the side of professional athletes in a highly controversial situation, then I think we’ve probably reached a turning point.

We are moving toward a public consensus that Black lives do, indeed, matter.

That doesn’t mean we’ve turned. President Trump may ride his campaign of fear and intimidation to another victory. He is incredibly good at blaming others for every failure of his administration.

But, we’re turning a corner, turning it at long last.

Four years ago, Colin Kaepernick was all alone.

He isn’t anymore.