August 28, 1963, in Washington, DC. On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where, if you didn’t realize, there is now a plaque commemorating the speech, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. addresses the nation.
Its surreal, now that I live here in the District, to imagine that this famous event–what Gawker’s Max Reed understated as “likely the most famous speech of the 20th century“– took place just down 14th Street from where I am currently writing. Generations of American kids have now grown up with this speech, and have been especially drilled about its famous phrase “the content of their character.” But like all good works of political art, the speech is not all cuddly reconciliation and it is a right of passage among American students to revisit this speech in high school or college and see it again with new eyes. Right from the top, with the “one hundred years later” cadence– it gives me chills. The experience of being a millennial kid is that Martin Luther King is almost an establishment figure. He has his own day (third Monday in January; first recognized in 1986) just like the presidents. He seems, at least where I grew up in southern California, to be universally respected. And his politics, again at least where I grew up, won the day. But when you see these peoples’ clothes and the looks on their faces and those aerial shots of 1960s Washington and when you listen to what he is saying, even if its for the fifth or tenth or ninetieth time, you realize what an agent of change he was. There is a reason he now has a day– because he is on Washington and Lincoln’s level bringing leadership to a time of crisis.
This post isn’t about sports so much as it is about being an American, because we don’t get to have the sports we love without Martin Luther King and without all those brave people who bent the arc of the universe back toward justice.