Confederate statue: Why Bucs, Lightning, Rays took a stand

Marc Rodriguez, a member of the "Florida Fight for $15" organization, stands in protest along with other activists demanding the Confederate  monument be removed from the old Hillsborough County Courthouse in Tampa. [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]
Marc Rodriguez, a member of the "Florida Fight for $15" organization, stands in protest along with other activists demanding the Confederate monument be removed from the old Hillsborough County Courthouse in Tampa. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
Published Aug. 18, 2017

They didn't want another Charlottesville.

They didn't want to wake up to the horrible news that someone was dead. They didn't want to see riots in their streets broadcast on CNN. They didn't want to live with the guilt of knowing their failure to act led to more hatred, more divisiveness and more violence.

That is why the Bucs, Lightning and Rays donated an undisclosed amount of money Thursday toward removal of a Confederate statue in front of the old courthouse in Tampa.

In a joint statement, the teams said, "This monument does not reflect the values of our community.''

Sports are no longer just a diversion. The cliche "stick to sports'' no longer applies. The paths of sports, politics and civil rights intersect daily. Sports have been at the forefront of many social causes, whether it's Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Billie Jean King or Colin Kaepernick.

The Bucs, Lightning and Rays are more than sports teams. Their aim is to thrill us with their homers and touchdowns and goals.

RELATED: In one day, fundraisers reach goal to move Confederate monument from downtown Tampa.

Their obligation is much greater.

They are here to give our community a face, to give us pride, to represent us, to bring us together. And at times, they are here to lead us.

Like now.

The debate over the removal of the Confederate statue had reached a critical stage. The Hillsborough County Commission passed the buck, looking for private funds to cover half the estimated $285,500 cost. It was time for someone to step up.

And when you're passing the collection plate, the first ones you go to are the local sports teams. That's how it always works.

Need money? Need a voice? Need someone to step up? Call the Glazers. Call Stu Sternberg. Call Jeff Vinik.

It was easy for us to make the call. It wasn't easy for the owners to pick up.

They could've said it isn't their business to get involved in politics.

Instead, history will remember that the Bucs, Lightning and Rays brought down the monument more than any crowbar or sledgehammer.

BACKGROUND: Hillsborough will leave Confederate monument up if it can't get private money to move it.

There will be backlash. When the Rays merely spoke out against the statue last month, protesters with Confederate flags gathered outside Tropicana Field.

This will now lead to even greater consequences. There will be boycotts. Season tickets will not be renewed. Some will never root for them again.

You can find rebel flags on pickups tailgating at Bucs games. You probably can find people with Lightning bumper stickers whose ancestors fought for the Confederacy. Some who watch every Rays game on TV want the monument preserved.

The Bucs, Lightning and Rays know all this, yet they refused to sit idly by.

It was a risk for the teams to do what they did. But it might have been a greater risk for them to do nothing.

The Rays strongly came out recently against the statue and are now putting their money where their mouth is.

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The Lightning is owned by Vinik, who is trying to transform downtown Tampa. You can't lead a city in the 21st century amid reminders of the worst of the 19th century.

The Bucs' roster is made up of predominantly African-American players, many of whom are politically engaged.

So it's wise for all three teams to do their part.

But this is more than smart business.

This is about standing up against white supremacy. This is about speaking out against neo-Nazis. This is about remembering the horror of Charlottesville and making sure it doesn't happen here.

This is about doing what is right.

Someday soon we'll go back to worrying about whether the Bucs can make a field goal. Or if the Rays can get a hit. Or if Steven Stamkos can stay healthy for the Lightning.

But today, we should cheer them.

Surely, the teams have already heard from angry voices. Now it's time for them to hear from the rest of us.

Thank you, Bucs. Thank you, Lightning. Thank you, Rays.

Thank you for making this a better place to live. Thank you for making us proud.

Thank you for doing the right thing.

Contact Tom Jones at Follow @tomwjones