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3 prominent Houston sports figures that have joined the push for racial equality

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NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell stared straight into the camera and spoke bluntly. "We, the NFL" have failed our players and, more important, the American ideal by not acknowledging racial injustice.

"We, the NFL, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of black people. We, the NFL, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest. We, the NFL, believe Black Lives Matter."

Only one thing was missing: an unqualified apology to Colin Kaepernick, who took a knee during the playing of the national anthem several years ago. Kaepernick, a Super Bowl quarterback in the prime of his career, was blackballed from the NFL. He lost his career and tens of millions of dollars, but gained his voice against police oppression and brutality toward African-American people. His people, our citizens. Is it possible for Sports Illustrated to retroactively present its 2016 Sportsperson of the Year award to Kaepernick? Time Magazine might want to reconsider its Person of the Year honor, too.

On this day George Floyd is laid to rest, across America protestors, rich and poor, all colors and backgrounds, are marching to end racism. It is thrilling to watch, and if you don't think those protestors won't change America, you just watch. History is on the protestors' side.

It's exciting to watch American athletes, who we cheer in stadiums and arenas, take a knee on downtown streets protesting systemic racism in our country. Roger Goodell finally understands. Michael Jordan, long criticized for not speaking out on social issues, is talking loud and clear now, and he's putting his money where his voice is - $100 million over 10 years from his Jordan brand.

"We have been beaten down for so many years. It sucks your soul," Jordan told the Charlotte Observer. "You can't accept it anymore. This is a tipping point. We need to make a stand. We've got to be better as a society regarding race."

Don't tell LeBron James to shut up and dribble. Houston Rockets star Russell Westbrook gave an impassioned speech to a large crowd of protestors in Compton, "I challenge all you guys to continue to stick together. Continue to fight for one another, continue to lift one another up. Protect your home, protect your team, protect your family."

Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson appeared with other NFL stars in a video pushing the league to condemn racism. Watson is urging his college, Clemson, to remove the name of a slave owner from programs and buildings. Houston Astros slugger Alex Bregman clapped back at a Twitter follower who advised him to stick to sports and not comment on social issues, or else he'd lose 75 percent of his fans, "If hating the KKK loses me fans, I hope I lose them."

Hundreds of sports heroes in the U.S. and around the world are putting it on the line – racism will not be tolerated. According to one recent poll, 80 percent of Americans think our country is "out of control," Another poll says, for the first time, a majority of Americans believe police are more likely to use "excessive force" against black people. If you want hope that we can do better on fulfilling America's promise, read Cincinnati Reds' first baseman Joey Votto's beautiful op-ed piece titled "My Awakening" in last Sunday's Cincinnati Enquirer.

Last week, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees had his own awakening. After making an unintended racially insensitive comment, "I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States or our country," Brees received much criticism from teammates and other athletes. Brees educated himself about the national debate on race, and offered a long and tearful apology with no "if you were offended" wiggle room or back pedaling. Then he apologized again. Then a third time privately to his teammates. Then his wife Brittany issued an apology of her own, "WE ARE THE PROBLEM," she posted on Instagram.

President Trump weighed in that Brees needn't have apologized for standing up for the flag. "He should not have taken back his original stance on honoring our magnificent American flag. Old Glory is to be revered, cherished and flown high," Mr. Trump said.

Brees fired back at the president: "It has never been (about the flag). We can no longer use the flag to turn people away or distract them from real issues that face our black communities."

It was particularly disappointing to hear other voices criticizing Brees now. They claim to be Brees fans and say their favorite quarterback appeared weak by apologizing. They say that Brees was forced to do it. Besides, he really didn't mean his "fake apology."

Calling Brees a liar and a racist in his heart, that's not a fan. That's someone who needs to be enlightened about issues of race in America.

When you don't take seriously Houston Texans coach Bill O'Brien's message about racism, and wave off his comments because he traded away your favorite player, judge what's in his heart and not worry so much about clock management of a football game.

Some voices dismiss African-American sports celebrities who speak against racism. They say, these players are rich, what do they know about suffering racism? They're showboating for attention. Fake outrage.

What difference does money make when you hurt? Instead of questioning their motivation or doubting their sincerity, listen to what they're saying. In 2015, James Blake, a world Top 5 tennis player, former Harvard guy, was viciously thrown to the ground and handcuffed by a New York cop who mistook him for a different African-American.

The incident was reviewed by an independent oversight board, which determined that the cop used "excessive force" against Blake. There had been five similar complaints from citizens that year, all citing unnecessary physical abuse by the police officer. His punishment for attacking and injuring Blake? The NYPD commissioner took five vacation days away from the officer.

The U.S. is at a crossroads. Sides are drawn. Amazing Americans, protesting peacefully, aren't giving up this time.

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This week the NASCAR cup series heads to the world center of racing, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, for the inaugural fourth of July version of the Brickyard 400. This is unprecedented for NASCAR considering over the course of 50 years they are usually in Daytona around this time. While this move was met with a lot of criticism from fans, there is a positive to come from this move though, as the sport will hold their first doubleheader with Indycar. This has been talked about for many years and now it has finally come to fruition. Another new facet of this weekend will be the Xfinity Series running on the road course configuration. This could very well lead to the cup series transitioning from the oval to the road course next season should everything go well when the Xfinity series does it. It will definitely be an interesting weekend.

Last week, Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin dominated the first-ever doubleheader at Pocono. The two drivers finished first and second in both races with Harvick taking race one and Hamlin winning race two. Both of these races came down to pit-road strategy as Harvick was able to eke out a victory by taking two tires and fuel while his teammate Aric Almirola took four. The next day Denny Hamlin pretty much had the whole field covered as he went on to claim his fourth victory of the season. Overall, the idea of two races in a weekend went over well but for the racing itself, it was hard to watch. One of the main issues I had was how the drivers didn't have to shift this week. In my opinion, that was what made this track so unique. It was an oval that had road course characteristics and it usually produced some pretty good finishes. Hopefully this will be addressed when the new car makes its debut in 2022.

One of the big stories going into this week is the announcement a couple of weeks ago that NASCAR will be moving their all-star event to Bristol Motor Speedway. Over the past couple of weeks, there has been a whirlwind of news from the Bubba Wallace story at Talladega, to the doubleheader races last week. A lot of this has put this announcement on the back burner but this is a huge story. The race will be held on Wednesday, July 15th as NASCAR continues with midweek races. This is the first time since 1986 that the race will not be run at NASCAR's home track in Charlotte back when it took place at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The format will be pretty much the same as all the winners from 2019 and 2020 will all have an automatic birth into the race while the rest of the field will run in the open event the day before. The main event will feature four stages including a 15 lap closer around one of NASCAR's most popular race tracks. I think this move was long overdue and I hope that they continue with it in the future. Don't get me wrong, there isn't anything wrong with the race at Charlotte but I think a change of pace would be welcomed. I look forward to seeing how this turns out.

As we move on to Indy this weekend, the driver I have winning is Kurt Busch. This weekend will be the 2004 Cup Series champion's 700th career start, and he's won just about every race that there is to be won except this one here at the Brickyard. This week, that is going to change. It hasn't been the most consistent season for the Vegas native, but he still sits tenth in points and right in the thick of the playoff battle. This track isn't his best as he currently has a 19.42 average finish, including a dismal 30th place finish last year. But this week, I think he gets back on track with a victory as he starts second. The veteran has flown under the radar this year, but he has definitely shown spurts where we think he is going to break-out. He also has runs where it seems like him and his team are mid-pack, but there aren't many drivers out there that have the experience he has. And a talented driver like him always finds a way to bounce back. Look for Kurt Busch to take the #1 Monster Energy Camaro to victory lane.

All stats and information used in this article are brought to you by the good folks at driveraverages.com and Racing-Reference.com, the best websites for all NASCAR stats.

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