Nonsequitur: Shannon Sharpe and Social Justice

April 28, 2017


Earlier this month, Football Hall of Fame member Shannon Sharpe gave perhaps the clearest summary of the Social Justice philosophy, as it relates to race, I have ever read.  In response to a fellow athlete’s call  (Dez Bryant) for a focus on individual responsibility and achievement, rather than a focus on systemic racism, Sharpe said the following:

Okay, so I’m supposed to hold me accountable for slavery? What about Reconstruction? What about the Jim Crow South? What about segregation? What about the violation of my civil rights and my voting rights? So who do I hold accountable for that?… Dez, I can’t get ahead if someone is constantly keeping me behind.” – Shannon Sharpe


Sharpe’s analysis comes in two parts.  The first part is his question about who he (or we) can hold accountable for slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow laws, and segregation, in other words, systemic racism.  The answer is he (or we) can hold accountable those who were responsible for slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow laws and segregation.  The people who inflicted slavery on their fellow human beings are responsible.  The community leaders (and followers) who inflicted Jim Crow laws and segregation on other citizens are responsible.  But those people aren’t around any more.  They are gone and have been for a long time.


In fact, our society has already addressed these past wrongs.  Slavery was outlawed in this country in 1865.  Discrimination in voting rights was outlawed in 1870.  Discrimination of any kind based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin was outlawed in 1964.  While discrimination and racism certainly do continue to exist and affect people’s lives, it is not “systemic” under the law.

It is true that individuals and some groups do practice discrimination. However, if Shannon Sharpe feels his rights are violated, he can ask for protection and reasonable restitution from the government.  And he will get it.  This is the same protection I have if I feel my rights are violated.  The US system both guarantees and protects all citizens’ rights.

The second part of Sharpe’s analysis is his claim that he “…can’t get ahead if someone is constantly keeping me behind.”  (This is the belief that Dez Bryant was addressing.)  Both Sharpe and Bryant are proof that you CAN get ahead even if someone is constantly trying to keep you behind.

Shannon Sharpe has succeeded, despite his barriers, in two different arenas of achievement.  He was very good at football and earned the right to play.  He worked very hard to help his teams win.  He succeeded on his own merit and has the Superbowl rings to prove it.  Sharpe then used this success and his strong communication skills to excel in another field, sports journalism.  He, his family and his community have all gained from his personal achievement.

The argument that systemic racism is inherent in the current US system is demonstrably wrong.  Systemic racism did exist, but those responsible for it are dead.  This society has corrected these past wrongs through the law.  Education, the media and other social tools currently promote the “right view” that slavery, segregation and discrimination are wrong.  The current US system dictates equal protection under the law.  Where this is violated, there are severe consequences.

The argument that African-Americans, or members of any other group, cannot get ahead because they are held back is also demonstrably wrong.  Shannon Sharpe and Dez Bryant are proof that individuals can succeed if they focus on their natural abilities and work very hard to achieve all they can.  It certainly is difficult for individuals to excel if they face personal barriers such as poverty, broken homes, crime, violence and racism.  But the most effective means to break down these barriers is to do what Sharpe and Bryant and many others have done.  Play and win despite the personal barriers.  It isn’t easy, but it can be done.  Sharpe and Bryant have shown us how.


One Response to “Nonsequitur: Shannon Sharpe and Social Justice”

  1. […] recently watched Shannon Sharpe and Skip Bayless get teary eyed talking about the “shameless” injustice of the NFL not […]

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