ESPN's 'Hoodies Up' Peels Away the Bandaid

I recently listened to the first episode of the new season of ESPN’s 30 for 30 Podcast -- a documentary series where the network takes a deep dive into the big stories that, at one time or another, captured the sporting world. In this particular episode, titled, “Hoodies Up,” the network chronicles the 2012 Miami Heat’s iconic decision to take a group photograph with the caption, “We are Trayvon Martin.” Each member of the team posed wearing a hoodie, representing the teenaged Martin who had been gunned down by neighborhood watch, George Zimmerman.

This decision caused a ripple effect throughout the league and is still polarizing till this day. It was my first taste of the notion that athletes aren’t just ball players, but people too. They’re husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, daughters, sons and so much more to their communities.

But more revealing to me was the idea that Trayvon Martin, a kid who was simply walking while hooded and black, was held to the same standards of the adult and authoritative figure that is George Zimmerman. We all know that Zimmerman is a free (and living) man today, but as difficult as this is to reconcile with, it’s the idea that Martin could’ve been as well if only he’d: stopped and complied with Zimmerman; not have been suspended from school at the time; NOT WEAR A HOODIE, that is quite frankly baffling to me.

All these reasons, no matter how asinine, were used at some point to denigrate the character of the victim in the name of respect for authority.

Since that day I’ve lived in fear for the lives of my family members who may find themselves in the crosshairs of an authoritative figure’s power trip, and not come back home. Because clearly there is no recourse for the actions that take the lives of innocent people, even children. And even more scary is the rush to defend perpetrators of these violent acts by those who identify and sympathize with this thought process.

How can you give credence to the idea that a grown man and a 13 year old are to be held to the same standard of situational control? Where instead of condemning the actions of a grown man who swore to uphold and protect the standards of living in the community, you instead chose to diminish the character of the child who lost his life?

This was over 5 years ago. I get it. But listening to that podcast brought back the feelings I felt trickle down my spine years ago. In particular, the feeling that America views Black Children as dangerous men. Feelings that the idea of “a kid being a kid” does not apply to me or those who look like me. Feelings that the sanctity of my life does not supercede the sociopolitical values of a faction of people in this country who are not willing to give any credence to the idea that racism still exists and is being used to persecute innocent lives.

I remember broaching this topic with a conservative-leaning friend of mine. His response to the entirety of the situation was that “they were both stupid.” Trayvon Martin was 13.