I recently listened to an interview that former Ohio State basketball great Clark Kellogg gave on the Gahanna, Ohio, Christian radio station 104.9 The River with Mary O’Brien & Josh Hooper. It was a moving and open conversation about the current state of race relations in our country amid the ongoing protests since the death of George Floyd.
Kellogg, who is African American, earned All-Big Ten Conference and most valuable player honors while playing for the Buckeyes in the early 1980s. College basketball fans have been enjoying his well-rounded commentary as a CBS Sports analyst during March Madness since 1993.
During his interview with O’Brien and Hooper, Kellogg was asked to provide his perspective as a black man and a former athlete on the struggles he has encountered and how they relate to the racial strife that is reverberating through the nation.
He began by explaining that the uproar in the streets we are seeing in major cities is nothing new, that “this undercurrent of racism has existed for decades upon decades … it’s real.” He then expressed how he believes the outbreak of the coronavirus has “peeled back” the many facets of inequality that remain rooted in our society, such as lack of access to health care and lack of equal opportunity and upward movement for blacks and other people of color.
What I really liked about this interview is that O’Brien and Hooper felt comfortable asking questions that many white people have wanted to ask their black friends regarding Floyd and other longstanding racial issues but have held back for fear of appearing thoughtless, or even worse, offensive.
With tensions being extremely high after millions in America and around the world viewed the agonizing suffering Floyd endured at the knee of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin on his neck, the right words — or any words, frankly — seemed almost impossible to articulate.
Yet, for many, this time feels different, and with COVID-19 exacerbating structural disparities, the discussion on race will most likely continue even though it did not with other high-profile police killings of black men.
Being a former professional athlete gives Kellogg a unique viewpoint on race since sports have always been considered a measure of meritocracy when it comes to display of athleticism and leadership on the field or court. Sports also have a special way of bringing us together across racial lines.
As protests for justice for Floyd have caused many prominent black athletes in the NFL and NBA to speak out, hopefully more of them will take a position of an understanding mediator like Kellogg.
The recent backlash against New Orleans Saints star quarterback Drew Brees is a perfect example of where two sides need to come together for constructive dialogue. Brees has received harsh criticism for previously stating that he would not agree with anyone disrespecting the American flag, which many took as a shot against former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling while the national anthem was being played during NFL games in 2016.
Brees quickly issued an apology on Instagram after current and former teammates called him out, and he even explained his reasoning to President Donald Trump. He promised to do “more listening” and work to fight against racial oppression.
His black teammates and NFL peers are going to hold him to those words, but there should also be space for Brees to ask those difficult questions that O’Brien and Hooper were able to ask Kellogg.
Like Kellogg, Brees is a Christian, so I am hopeful he will look within his faith for wisdom and encouragement as he reaches out more to the black community in New Orleans.
In Kellogg’s final remarks, he said that he believes working through our racial differences must start with followers of Christ, quoting Micah 6:8, which instructs us to “do justly, and to love mercy.”
Kellogg emphasized that we must be honest about “our blind spots” and let God bring about healing and clarity. This is definitely what I’ll be praying for.
— Jessica Johnson is a lecturer in the English Department at The Ohio State University at Lima. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter: @JjSmojc. Click here for more columns. The opinions expressed are her own.