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Eva Paterson on Sharks’ Involvement in Prop 16



Credit: Freedom To Marry (CC BY 2.0)

Every Sunday at Peng to the Point, we talk about the world away from the San Jose Sharks.

“It’s unprecedented.”

That’s what Eva Paterson, president of the Equal Justice Society, said of the seven Bay Area male professional sports teams — the Golden State Warriors, the Oakland A’s, the San Francisco 49ers, the San Jose Earthquakes, the Oakland Roots, the San Francisco Giants, and the San Jose Sharks — uniting last month in support of Proposition 16.

When’s the last time you saw an entire region’s pro sports teams get behind a ballot measure?

“I’ve been here since 1971. I came here after I graduated from Northwestern,” Paterson, a lawyer who’s been fighting discrimination for five decades, noted. “I’ve never seen this. I’ve never seen this anywhere in the country.”

Paterson is a leading voice behind Prop 16, which seeks to repeal 1996’s Prop 209 and lift the ban on affirmative action.

Whatever side you fall on the measure, it’s fascinating that every Bay Area male sports professional team is speaking up in unison about a political issue.

San Jose Hockey Now spoke with Paterson about how she got the ball rolling on the San Jose Sharks and other teams getting behind Prop 16, whether this is the beginning of more political involvement from sports franchises, and if you really can separate politics and social issues.

Sheng Peng: I’m told you’re a big sports fan. What are your teams?

Eva Paterson: (laughs) Well, I’m one of those corny people who drives around with Warriors banners hanging out of their car windows, honking at other people. I’m goofy like that.

Most of my friends have stopped watching football because of Kaepernick and the head injuries. But I still love football.

SP: How does one get all these teams on board, in support of Prop 16?

EP: We have an amazing political strategy team. Nicole Derse, Brian Brokaw, and Dan Newman did the heavy lifting for us.

The ball got started a couple of days after Mr. George Floyd was murdered. I was called by David Kelly, who’s a vice president at the Warriors, and he asked me to do a Zoom briefing for the Warriors. They have periodic town halls, and team president Rick Welts was there.

I got to talk about racial justice, what was necessary to do, and I mentioned Proposition 16.

SP: Are you pleased in general with how the sports community has dealt with George Floyd’s murder?

EP: The sports community has been remarkable about Black Lives Matter, Jacob Blake, the so many relatively young African-American men who know it could have been them shot or stopped — and many of them have been shot or stopped. They have been simply remarkable in standing up. I loved that the Bucks wouldn’t play.

The sports world has been very good about this. They’ve been using the social platform. I think the whole society has had its blinders ripped away about race. And as a black person, I’ve been part of a community that for decades, in fact, for 400 years has been saying, you know, the hammer’s coming down on us and society needs to stop. And I think it took, as Trevor Noah said, everybody being home, watching their TVs, no distractions, and seeing Mr. Floyd.

I think all of society is really taking a look at systemic racism. So the endorsement by the Bay Area male teams was just magnificent. And then Steve Kerr endorsed Proposition 16.

SP: Can you talk about the San Jose Sharks and hockey’s role in this?

EP: It was wonderful that the Sharks came out for this.

Something else, it was a black hockey player, made his statement about Black Lives Matter, and he was surrounded and backed up by white hockey players.

It was striking. Because you expect the NBA to do this, but not hockey. It stuck in my mind.

Anyway, this is what I like [about that image]: A lot of people who are not political follow sports. Some of them are going to be angry because players are speaking up, but some other people are going to go, wait a minute. Maybe I’d better think about this twice.

In politics, there’s something called a validator. And many people follow people in sports or celebrities or whatever. And so for sports people to say racism is a problem, it’s a big deal, and it will move some people. It really will.

Some people will be alienated, but other people will go, huh? These are white hockey guys saying there’s a problem. It’s a big deal.

SP: Besides their names and prestige, how will the teams be contributing to Prop 16?

EP: I believe they’re going to be giving money, but I’m not sure that has has happened yet. But I understand they are going to be making a contribution.

SP: If Prop 16 passes, will these private-entity teams be applying those same principles to to their own teams?

EP: I certainly hope so. I think it’s more relevant in terms of management, to make sure that upper management is desegregated.

You see a lot of black coaches, which is really good. But you also want to see black and Latino and Asian-American GMs and the like. We hope everybody’s looking internally at their own situation.

SP: In your extensive background in political activism, is this the first time you’ve seen all these teams band together and speak out on a political matter? Is this unprecedented, as far as you know, in state or national history?

EP: It is, it is. I’ve been here since 1971. I came here after I graduated from Northwestern. I’ve never seen this. I’ve never seen this anywhere in the country. It’s unprecedented.

SP: One of the the big conversations over the last few years, since Colin Kaepernick took a knee, there’s the thought that sports should be separated from politics. And obviously, this is a strong statement from the Bay Area sports teams that in fact, sports teams can be leading in politics. Do you see this potentially as kind of a different way of acting from sports teams?

EP: Black athletes and athletes of color have often taken political stances because they have visibility and they’re also black men and black women. So they know what it means to be black in this society. And you can’t pretend you’re just a basketball player and that you’re not black 24/7. So I think this is just a continuation of of a tradition that black athletes and other athletes of color and women athletes have had throughout history. I just think this is great. It’s a step up because it’s not just individual, it’s team. It’s all the male professional sports teams in the Bay Area. That’s extraordinary.

SP: That’s what I’m getting at. We’ve seen individual athletes themselves step up for a long time. But from a team side, the organizational side doing it, that’s what’s different. Do you anticipate that teams are going to start taking more stances on things like this?

EP: My guess would be no. I think we’re in the extraordinary George Floyd moment. His daughter said my dad changed history and he did. I think this is a reaction to a specific moment in American history. That’s about race. I think it’s a singular experience.

Although I’ll tell you, in 2007, I said America will never elect a black president. So what do I know? (laughs)

SP: My last question. One of the things that’s, I guess, a reaction to everything that’s happened, a lot of people are trying to say we care about social issues, we’re not talking about politics here. But it’s hard to separate the two, right? Because it’s often the politics that create or perpetuate these harmful social constructs. What are your thoughts about attempts to separate social issues from politics?

EP: Politics is about power. It’s about decision-making. It’s about who controls the decision. The politics of our country, that’s resulted in systemic racism against people of color and women. So those two are inexorably linked.

Social justice and politics are linked and you cannot separate them.

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