POWERFUL WORDS

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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PROBABLE STARTERS

Thurs, Sept. 24 - HOU: Cristian Javier (4-2, 3.33) vs. TEX: Lance Lynn (6-2, 2.53)

Fri, Sept. 25 - HOU: Jose Urquidy (1-1, 2.78) vs. TEX: Kyle Cody (1-1, 1.53)

Sat, Sept. 26 - HOU: TBD vs. TEX: Kyle Gibson (2-6, 5.87)

Sun, Sept. 27 - HOU: TBD vs. TEX: Jordan Lyles (1-5, 7.07)

STORYLINES

Season finale - The Astros will wrap up their regular season with their four game set in Arlington at the new Globe Life Field. Houston's magic number rests at two, as the Angels still have a puncher's chance. With Houston's miserable 8-20 road record, the postseason is anything but clinched.

Where's the offense? - The Astros offense has left a lot to be desired over the last few weeks, scoring more than three runs just twice in their last ten games. The bats really need to get going, especially if the team expects to do anything in the playoffs. George Springer has been the only reliable bat of late, with the performances of Carlos Correa, Yuli Gurriel, Alex Bregman, and, most of all, Jose Altuve, leaving a lot to be desired.

Playoff seeding - If the playoffs started today, the Astros would face off with their division rivals in Oakland. There's an infinite number of possibilities over the next four games, but the Astros can see themselves finish anywhere from the fifth seed to out of the playoffs entirely. Any of Tampa Bay, Minnesota, Oakland, Chicago, New York, and Cleveland could be first round foes depending on how the cards fall.

PREDICTION

Lance Lynn has been one of the better pitchers in the game for a few years now, Kyle Cody is an intriguing young arm with good stuff, and Jordan Lyles and Kyle Gibson gave the Astros fits in Houston just last week. It isn't a recipe for success for Houston. The Astros win 1 of 4, which combined with the Angels and Mariners failing to take care of business, is enough to get Houston into the playoffs.

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