Three years ago, Fox News commentator Laura Ingraham unwisely advised basketball superstars LeBron James and Kevin Durant to “shut up and dribble” instead of criticizing President Trump.
Ingraham’s assertion was that athletes are paid to play ball instead of discussing political topics. A lot of people probably agree with her, but athletes are allowed to have opinions, and the most prominent ones cannot be faulted when they have a large stage and decide to use it.
An excellent example of a professional athlete contributing meaningfully to the discussion of a serious problem occurred this week, when New Orleans Saints linebacker Demario Davis, who grew up in Brandon, talked about criminal justice reform in a video interview with Empower Mississippi.
Saints fans know Davis as the team’s fiery defensive leader. But to hear him tell it, it almost didn’t turn out that way.
Raised by a single mother and with no positive male role models during childhood, Davis said he “fell into a lot of things that exist in those communities – drugs, gangs, running the streets.”
As a freshman at Arkansas State, he got arrested for shoplifting and spent three days in jail. A football coach paid his $10,000 bail, preventing Davis from being behind bars for weeks or months until his court date. That’s when Davis vowed to turn his life around.
“Three days in jail could have been the difference in my life had I not been on a college football team,” Davis said in the interview. “It’s been a journey by the grace of God and great people who poured into me in college.”
Davis is a big proponent of second chances, having benefited from them many times.
Expelled from high school, principals originally wanted to keep him out for three years, which would have meant no football. At Arkansas State, Davis got caught shoplifting the day after the coach warned the team not to steal. He says his action was direct insubordination, and knows he’s lucky he didn’t lose his scholarship.
Now, let’s be honest: The coach surely saw Davis’ raw football talent, and that had to play a role in his decision to keep Davis on the team. Maybe he knew about Davis’ tough background and hoped that having more role models in college would make a difference.
The truth is, sometimes it’s hard to know who deserves the Christian gesture of a second chance. There are plenty of coaches and employers who tolerate repeated episodes of misbehavior and ultimately get proven wrong. For every Demario Davis, there are dozens of people who refused to change their ways.
As Davis’ star has risen, he has become a vocal proponent of criminal justice reform. Given that he’s seen the system from the inside, and had to depend on the wisdom of others to point him in the right direction, he clearly has valuable insights on this topic. We should listen.
Davis believes too many non-violent offenders and first-time offenders are being put in jail, which makes them more likely to commit a crime in the future. He believes more offenders should be directed to non-prison programs like drug court.
He said the nation must give prisoners “something to live for,” meaning education opportunities or job training that can help them rejoin society once they get out.
So, shut up and dribble? No way. If we are going to get more young people on the right path, we need to hear from Demario Davis and anyone else who is willing to help. The participation of Black male role models is critical.
It doesn’t matter if the speaker is a highly paid professional athlete or just a regular guy working 9 to 5. We need ideas and energy to address a problem that has festered for decades.