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Op-Ed

GOOD COACHES: Space Jammin’ with the Stinky Popcorn Boys

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The day Ol’ 45 brought his traveling show to Wilmington and encouraged his devotees to vote twice I listened to the Stinky Popcorn Boys discuss “Space Jam” and “The Last Dance.” The Stinky Popcorn Boys are a trio of creative minds that developed a podcast to discuss films and the way they make them feel. All are under 30 years old and film artists that collaborate in Wilmington-based JT Music, a group that creates songs and skits based on videogames. Perfect for generations of listeners and viewers. In the context of NBA work stoppage, ongoing Black Lives Matter moral protests the Stinky Popcorn Boys’ choice to discuss “Space Jam” was timely.

 

 

“There’s a lot of references to slavery in the movie,” my son Patrick said early in the podcast. He’s one of the Stinky Popcorn Boys.

“Seriously?” I thought. I had forgotten the plot of the 1996 movie. All I remembered was the fun. I’d forgotten that Bugs and the gang were kidnapped and supposed to be slaves in an amusement park on Moron Mountain.

I stopped listening to the podcast, Googled “’Space Jam’ plot summary” and started streaming the movie. At least on my screen, Swackhammer, the ruthless but ridiculous president of Moron Mountain had a distinctly orange glow around his stable genius head. And the very first plot synopsis I read online said, “In a desperate attempt to win a basketball match and earn their freedom, the Looney Tunes seek the aid of retired basketball champion, Michael Jordan.”

That “desperate attempt to earn their freedom” line jumped out at me. I’m sure this isn’t what the Stinky Popcorn Boys or the 1996 Disney movie intended, but I couldn’t help but connect that line with today’s Black Lives Matter movement, the recent NBA work stoppage, and the century-long involvement of high-level athletes in moral issues.

People still fail to understand that Colin Kaepernick wasn’t making a partisan political statement. He wasn’t saying, “Take a knee with me. Vote Democrat.” The NBA work stoppage was not an indictment of the Republican Party or Ol’ 45. It was a scathing condemnation of a morally repugnant systemic racism in America. Athletes are making a statement, calling attention to a moral failing in America that all too frequently ends in death for black men. Joe Louis, Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, Althea Gibson, Curt Flood, Tommy Smith and John Carlos, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, and hundreds of other athletes have called attention to moral failures in America for generations.

I am tired of friends and family boycotting the NFL because of Colin Kaepernick, berating NBA athletes for taking a moral stand, eagerly pointing out flaws in these “privileged millionaire babies,” and telling LeBron James to “shut up and dribble.” The loudest whiners are often the most jealous; the failed and frustrated former high school bench warmers and wannabes, the kids that got cut from the team. “They got no game,” but, like Bill Murray in “Space Jam,” they desperately wanted to be in the big leagues.

When parents send their kids to practice do they expect coaches to teach players how to “win at all costs” (even if it means voting twice)? How to invest their millions? How to negotiate a shoe contract with Nike? Or how to stand up for what is right, overcome adversity, and play fair?

Athletes have been rebelling against the “Win at all costs” indentured servitude model of  American sports for generations and have been standing up for what they believe in long before Cassius Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali and was willing to accept a prison sentence rather than fight an immoral war.

I’ve been an athlete or coach for most of my life. Good coaches from t-ball to the pros coach character first, sportsmanship first, fairness first. Today’s athletes are doing exactly what they were coached to do back when they were little kids watching Michael Jordan keep his friends from being enslaved on Moron Mountain.

For me, if there is a bright spot in this year’s darkness, it is the stand much of the sports world has taken on moral issues. I’ll vote only once this November (it’s the law), but I will always stand or kneel with athletes engaged in the ongoing struggle not to be enslaved on Moron Mountain.

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