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What would've really made a difference would have been Kirk Hinrich warming up in the "I Can't Breathe" t-shirt.
As veteran center Joakim Noah recently reminded us, Hinrich grew up in Sioux City, Iowa, which is about as pale as the Bulls' veteran guard.
The 2010 census recorded that 80.6 percent of the population (a little more than 84,000) is Caucasian and less than three percent is African American. That is down from 85.2 percent white in 2000, so I suppose things are trending in a slightly positive direction if you believe in the whole "America has been as remarkable as it is because it is a melting pot" thing, as I do.
Noah brought up Hinrich's western-border-of-Iowa hometown (right across the Missouri River from Nebraska and South Dakota by the way) when he was talking about the Bulls bouncing back to beat the Charlotte Hornets last week. The team did so a day after a tough loss to Dallas in which Hinrich committed an incredibly boneheaded foul at an especially brutal time. I hadn't heard the Bulls center bust out the hometown nickname prior to that, but I would imagine he does it relatively frequently.
The main thing is, Hinrich is a white guy from Middle America. And when I say Middle America, I mean his home town is not far from the actual geographic middle of the continental portion of the country. And a prominent white guy from where Hinrich is from is the one who would have made a huge statement in the aftermath of the travesty on Staten Island had he been the first (or maybe tied for first with Rose wearing one as well) to prominently don the t-shirt in the sports world.
My primary response to Derrick Rose displaying the "I Can't Breathe" t-shirt was a shrug. The gesture immediately became a big deal to many but only because the bar is so low for athletes in America (it wasn't like Rose was actually sacrificing something for the cause). And it probably should be low. These guys aren't prominent for their intellectualism. We need our smartest people working on issues like the persistent racial divide in this country and we need to focus on getting their ideas for ameliorating the problem ("solutions" aren't on the horizon just yet) into the political realm.
Still, for a long time after Michael Jordan's "Republicans buy shoes too" remark during his playing career, it has seemed as though prominent athletes in America took avoiding controversial comments addressing issues outside the world of sports to a different level. Certainly no one picked up the mantle from Muhammad Ali as he receded from the public eye in the 80s. And Jordan made the ultimate statement about his determination to put material concerns (selling more shoes) ahead of all other considerations.
Anyway, in the aftermath of African-American Eric Garner's death at the hand of a Caucasian police officer and the failure of the American judicial system to hold the offender criminally accountable, people from all walks of life in this country have the opportunity to join the protest.
On Monday night, several other prominent African-American athletes donned shirts that said "I Can't Breathe." But the historic moment has passed. People don't remember the second African American to sit at the front of the bus. The first, Rosa Parks, sat alone and faced the consequences of her actions alone.
We're still looking for that moment when a team of citizens like Derrick Rose and Kirk Hinrich make a pivotal, meaningful, resonant statement together.
Jim "Coach" Coffman is our man on Mondays, except when he's our man on Tuesdays due to unforeseen circumstances. He welcomes your comments.