Derrick Rose had three words on his chest Saturday night, and those words -- "I can't breathe" -- said more than any quote from the point guard could have. Rose wore a shirt with the slogan that has become a rallying cry in the aftermath of the decision of a Staten Island grand jury to not indict the cop whose chokehold killed Eric Garner. In doing so, Rose became the first major American athlete to bring the ongoing protests over police violence onto the court. He was joined by a few NFL players who repeated the three words on shirts or shoes Sunday.
Those three words were louder than anything Rose could have said in a scrum. But for some reporters, it wasn't enough. Because this is American sports in 2014, and everything is framed in the context of what it means for business.
With all due respect, to hell with how this impacts the Bulls and adidas. If a single person redirects his dollars because a young athlete has the temerity to express his opinion about an important social issue especially relevant to his community, it says way more about that person than Rose.
I just wish @drose could talk, or really understands what he's doing. I don't think he does, but he deserves to be treated as if so.— Dan Bernstein (@dan_bernstein) December 7, 2014
It's this: If @drose felt strongly and deeply enough to make that statement, He should be able to say why. We can only hope, but I doubt.— Dan Bernstein (@dan_bernstein) December 7, 2014
This isn't the first time a reporter has implied that Rose is dumb, and it won't be the last. Dan Bernstein's CBSChicago.com colleague Cody Westerlund was mostly respectful of Rose's stance, but some of the persistent, wholly irrelevant critiques showed themselves in his piece.
To have worn the shirt, though, Rose had to have known there'd be questions that followed. We're not owed anything, but we're undoubtedly curious. This was the real Derrick Rose, and we want to know the real Derrick Rose. [...] How did the idea to wear the T-shirt come about and who had input? [...] Is this a sign of a more independent Rose, a man who speaks for himself after years of voices whispering in his ear? [...]
It was also fitting that Rose made his stand by show rather than words, with which he too often bumbles. At some point soon, though, we'll want to hear from him.
And you wonder why Rose didn't want to talk about this to reporters.
Again, Westerlund is respectful of the stance, and Bernstein's bumbling lament comes in the service of acknowledging what a big, brave thing it was to wear the shirt. Rick Telander's meditation on the t-shirt avoided the pitfalls of most Rose writing. (Ironic, considering Telander is a frequent contributor to some of the worst Rose writing.) Certainly, none of the Rose critiques after the t-shirt rate anywhere near the disastrous response to the "Hands Up" protest from five St. Louis Rams players a week ago.
But the implications are that Rose doesn't understand what he's doing, that he's mentally incapable of explaining it and -- worse -- that he actually needs to spell out why he opposes the killing of a citizen by the police in broad daylight for the crime of selling loosies. It implies that anyone -- anyone! -- needs to explain why he feels black lives matter, let alone a 26-year-old black man from one of the worst neighborhoods in the country.
You want to know why Rose feels empowered and moved to wear those three words on his chest? Two months ago, Rose donated $1 million to After School Matters, a Chicago non-profit that provides programs for at-risk teens. Here's what Rose said then.
"My message to our kids is simple - you matter, you deserve every opportunity in life, and you can and should dream big because dreams can come true."
To see Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Mike Brown, Akai Gurley and so many others die at the hands of the authority figures we trust to keep the peace belies Rose's message of hope. There's no mystery here. There's nothing to explain. And there's no reason whatsoever to question Rose or demand more.