Activism, basketball and the American way

A lot of people claim to stand for something, but seldom do they do anything about it. This explains attendance at the University of Calgary’s annual tuition rallies, the sorry state of our health care system, and more brutally, something as simple as a homeless man.

However, there are those who stand up for what they believe in. A few are politicians (Trudeau), many are populist leaders (Malcolm X), and sometimes, once in a generation, an athlete joins these exclusive ranks as well.

This brings us to Toni Smith, a young, American college student, whose behaviour in the month of February drew praise and ire from the U.S. public and the U.S. media alike.

“If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything,” says the favourite quote of 21-year-old Manhattanville College student on her school’s website. More specifically, that quote is listed directly below Smith’s height and number, because, as you guessed it, Toni Smith is a basketball player like the U of C’s own Chris Wright or Duke University’s Chris Duhon.

Toni Smith has refused to face the American flag during the national anthem. She stands with her back turned, in protest of American policy and the direction taken by the American government.

Another quote from the website: “It will be a great day when our schools get all the money they need and the military has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber.”

Judging the scope and impact of Smith’s protest, it may sound strange to mention it the same breath with Trudeau or Malcolm X. But while Smith’s actions are just one tear in river of anti-government sentiment, her conviction and courage set her apart from the activist masses. The marchers walk together–Toni Smith stands alone, with her back to everyone, with hecklers and uncertainty looming in the crowd.

In an interview with a local newspaper, The Journal News, she said, “the flag stands for millions of indigenous people massacred to claim it, millions of people who were enslaved to build it up, and the millions who are oppressed to make it prosper.”

The flag also stands for all the good about America, but Smith chooses the idealist route; all or nothing.

She has been criticized for being ignorant and naïve, but ultimately, right or wrong, Toni Smith is standing up for a noble cause. And if she wants to stand with her back to the stars and stripes, she has the right to do it.

Back in 1968, John Carlos and Tommie Smith stood with their fists in the breeze at the Mexico City Olympiad protesting the treatment of blacks in America. They were naïve too, but eventually, they came to be known as heroes.

This is no different. Toni Smith turned her back for idealistic reasons. She got my attention–and I know I’m not the only one.

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