Every-Thing Sports

Jermaine Every: Athletes should be lauded for pointing out injustice

Lebron James can do a lot more than just "shut up and play." Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

Every-Thing Sports

By: Jermaine Every

“Shut up and dribble.” That statement has been a hot topic. So has social commentary in general from athletes. I’m not sure why the public has such an issue with athletes speaking out on the societal issues they feel strongly about.

I’m sure John Carlos and Tommie Smith faced some backlash when they raised their black-gloved fists at the 1968 Olympics. But that was during an era in which blacks were still fighting for civil rights and equality. That fight isn’t over. Neither are other issues at the forefront of our society. The “#MeToo” movement comes to mind. Which is why I can’t understand why we haven’t heard the phrase “shut up and act” or “shut up and sing?”

Actors and other entertainers have always taken a stand against societal issues and provided social commentary via their various forms of art. Whether it’s a commercial, a song, or a gesture or wardrobe statement, they’ve made their feelings known for years. Frequently, top actors and actresses have used award ceremonies to voice their opinions. Singers have made songs about their views and opinions. So why has it become taboo for athletes to do the same?

One of the reasons I feel it’s an issue for athletes is because a lot of them have been blacks and minorities speaking out on this country’s treatment of blacks and other minorities. This started with the Civil Rights Movement. Muhammad Ali, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jim Brown, and many others used their star power as pro athletes to further the Movement. Anthem protests were sparked by police brutality and killing of unarmed blacks and minorities. The president has made himself a very polarizing figure with some outlandish actions and statements, most of which have caused a ripple of divisiveness in our country. Some have caused athletes and entertainers to speak out. However, the athletes are the only ones to get flack.

The “#MeToo” movement was started because of sexual assault/harassment allegations against some of the movie/television industries top executives, actors, and actresses. This shined a light on some ugliness that has been going on behind the scenes of our entertainment industry. Recently, there have been some allegations against college basketball programs paying players as a result of an F.B.I. investigation. I know there are different departments that handle different things. But why is it that women feel unheard reporting these allegations to authorities, yet we have task forces dedicated to finding out who’s paying what college basketball player?

I’m not lost on the fact that these two issues are completely different. I’m not trying to downplay either one either. I have a close friend who was the victim of sexual assault. It hurt to find out what happened years later and knowing I wasn’t there for her. I’ve also seen what those illegal payments have done for some of those athletes and their families.

The one thing that has pissed me off more than anything is the way the media, and our society as a whole, has treated athletes who speak out against social injustice, or societal issues they feel strongly about. The “#MeToo” movement was seen as shedding light on the horrific behavior of people in power. But when LeBron James speaks out against societal inequities, which are painfully obvious, he gets vitriol spewed his way? Injustice is injustice no matter how you slice it. Whether it’s sexual assault, police brutality, racism, sexism, or any kind of ugliness that plagues our society, anyone who chooses to speak out against it should be afforded the same opportunity. I don’t give a damn if it’s an older white NBA coach like Gregg Popovich speaking out on social injustice regarding blacks and other minorities, or if it’s the men affected by harassment or assault in the #MeToo movement, everyone is afforded that right under the First Amendment. And yes, you’re also afforded the right to offer rebuttal or critical commentary under the First Amendment as well. However, in the interest of being a decent human being, shut the hell up criticizing people speaking out on the obvious injustices that plague our society.

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Israel plays Jose Altuve and Venezuela on Wednesday. Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images.

Josh Wolf was born in Houston. He attended the Emery Weiner School on Stella Link just south of the Loop. He played Bellaire Little League, where he hardly was one of the bigger kids. He went to St. Thomas High School on Memorial Drive.

So how on Earth was he pitching for Israel (almost halfway on the other side of Earth) against Nicaragua in the World Baseball Classic this week?

Wolf’s mother was born in Israel, Wolf is Jewish and by Israeli law all Jews are eligible to become Israeli citizens, and that qualified him to play with the Star of David on his baseball cap. Plus he’s started the process, called Aliyah, to become an Israeli citizen.

The Israel team is mostly composed of American minor leaguers and free agents. The team has a small number of MLB players, like outfielder Joc Pederson, pitcher Dean Kremer and former Astros catcher Garrett Stubbs. Israel currently is 1-1 in the event, defeating Nicaragua and losing to Puerto Rico.

Meanwhile, let’s have a look at the U.S. roster, which is packed with future Hall of Famers like Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Nolan Arenado, and Paul Goldschmidt, plus All-Stars like J.T. Realmuto, Pete Alonso, Tim Anderson, Trea Turner, and a couple of guys you may have watched at Minute Maid Park named Kyle Tucker and Ryan Pressly.

The Dominican Republic team, Israel’s opponent Tuesday night (6 p.m. on FS1) boasts Juan Soto, Manny Machado, Rafael Devers, Julio Rodriguez, Sandy Alcantara, and Astros stars Jeremy Pena, Hector Neris, Cristian Javier, Rafael Montero and Bryan Abreu.

Wolf was drafted out of St. Thomas in the second round of the Major League Baseball’s draft in 2019. Still only 22, he’s spent three years in the minors. In 2021 the Mets included Wolf in a trade with the Cleveland Guardians to land superstar shortstop Francisco Lindor.

This week, he’s in Miami, pitching for Israel in Pool D of the World Baseball Classic, awaiting his next turn on the mound, which he expects will be Tuesday night against the powerful, All-Star packed Dominican Republic or Wednesday against Venezuela, which has a guy named Jose Altuve leading off. Oh, and Venezuela has already defeated the Dominican Republic this week.

SportsMap: Can you believe you’re playing in the same baseball tournament as today's biggest stars? Is this like fantasy camp for real?

Josh Wolf: It’s definitely surreal. The thought of me playing with all these amazing players is pretty crazy. But at the same time, I want to get to that level in my career and I believe I can get there. I’m kind of in the middle right now, between fanboy and thinking I can get these guys out. There are parts of me, when I don’t have to be a serious professional player, like when I met Altuve, I say to myself how amazing this is. I watched him when I was growing up. Joc Pederson is on the Israel team. I had his jersey when I was a kid, all that stuff. This is the dream of 14-year-old me. Not only do I get to watch this up close, I’m playing in it.

SM: Are you in the moment fully capturing this experience, or is it a haze right now?

JW: It is a haze. Even now I don’t think I’m comprehending how big this is, especially at this point in my career. I think after the tournament is done, I’ll say to myself, wow, that all happened.

SM: Were you an Astros fan growing up in Bellaire?

JW: Of course, yeah yeah, 100 percent. Today I saw Martin Maldonado on the Puerto Rico team. I got to watch him up close. Being an Astros fan, I’ve watched Astros baseball my whole life. So I know a lot about the players. It’s really cool facing them. I’m expecting to pitch Tuesday or Wednesday. I’ll be facing Altuve or Jeremy Pena depending which night.

SM: OK, you’re on the mound and Jose Altuve steps into the batter’s box. What's the plan?

JW: I can’t reveal that. All I can say is that I’ll throw my best. I learned from our game against Nicaragua. I was trying to be too perfect. I let the moment speed up on me. The beauty of that is, I’m learning. I’ve got to trust my stuff. Against a guy like Altuve, I’ll just throw my best. If he gets me, I’ll tip my hat. But I believe that my best can get anybody out.

SM: Last week you posted a photo of yourself with Altuve. Will you apologize if you strike him out?

JW: I won’t apologize but I may ask for the ball back.

SM: How awesome were you in Bellaire Little League?

JW: My first couple of years I didn’t play that well. There were a couple of years I was really good. I started separating myself in the last year, the age 12 year. After that my career started taking off. It wasn't that I was physically imposing. To be honest, I’m still waiting for my body to grow. My abilities just started increasing, that’s all.

SM: How did you get to St. Thomas High School instead of Bellaire High School?

JW: My dad knew my best friend’s dad who sold him on St. Thomas’ baseball program. So my dad told me, you’re going to St. Thomas. I said all right, sounds good. They didn’t scout me or anything. I just went there. I think the coach was pleasantly surprised by me.

SM: Have you been to Israel?

JW: Yes, I’ve been there. I had my bar mitzvah there, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. And I’m becoming a citizen so I can play for Israel in international competitions, like the Olympics, that require athletes to be citizens of the country they represent.

SM: Where will you play this year?

JW: I will go where Cleveland assigns me. I would guess it will be High-A Lake County in Eastlake, Ohio.

SM: Now that you’re a professional, is baseball still fun?

JW: Yeah, I think it is. The only difference is, it can’t be just fun.I know there’s stuff on the line. I have to take it more seriously. When I struggle, I think it’s because I forget that it’s still a game and it’s fun and I can smile and have a blast. I know a lot of people would love to be in my situation.

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