“If you have a platform and you’re not speaking, I’ve got a problem with you.”
It’s a blunt message four-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Johnson delivers as he called on sportspeople to use their platform to fight against inequality and to show support to the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Prior to this whole movement that we see right now, I would have said that it’s up to the individual,” Johnson told CNN’s Amanda Davies in an Instagram Live. “But being silent right now, that’s hurting people.
“There are a lot of people out there sacrificing, doing incredibly hard and difficult work to highlight this matter and to keep the focus on the inequalities in this country and around the world, and the systemic racism that exists.
“They’re not famous, they’re out there marching, they’re out there organizing, they’re out there highlighting these issues. If you have the ability, you have a platform and you’re not using it, then you’re hurting people and you’re complicit.”
‘As Black people, we’re tired. Just really tired’
Johnson says fighting for equality is “exhausting,” but that he won’t be stop talking about these issues.
“It was exhausting for Martin Luther King Jr. and all of those civil rights leaders, it was exhausting for them. But they kept going, and we owe it to them.
“We owe it to all of our ancestors who have been working for years and who suffered to not be tired, to not let that get us down and say, ‘Okay, I’m gonna let somebody else do the work.’ We have to keep working.”
While the killing of George Floyd in May sparked widespread protests across the US – and around the world – that continue to this day, the former 200 and 400 meter runner said the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, “gunned down while he was out running” hit him hard.
Johnson added that he thought the incident in Central Park where White woman Amy Cooper called the police on Black birdwatcher Christian Cooper was “the most impactful thing.”
“When a White woman decides because she doesn’t like the way that a Black man is asking her to obey the rules in Central Park by leashing her dog, she decides that she’s going to use her privileged position as a White woman, and weaponize that against this Black man, because she knows that she has that power because that’s the way that our society works.
“As a White woman, I have this power that I’m going to be believed. And you as a Black man are not going to be believed and trouble will come to you. She knew that she had that because that’s the way our society works
“And the thing is that happens every single day, thousands of times a day. That is the issue. And it’s the system that allows that to happen. The world we live in, that’s what allows that to happen.
“The George Floyd situation, there’s more impact because he’s dead. He’s no longer with us. That doesn’t happen every day. But I think people saw that situation in Central Park and said, ‘This happens every single day, every single day.’ And if it’s not caught on video, no one would believe it.”
Earlier this month, Amy Cooper’s attorney said she would be acquitted and decried the rise of “cancel culture.”
“When all the facts are known, Amy Cooper will be found not guilty of the single misdemeanor charge she faces,” attorney Robert Barnes said in a statement. “Based on a misunderstood 60 seconds of video, she lost her job, her home and her reputation.
“Public shaming, lost employment, denied benefits & now prison time for a mis-perceived, momentary alleged ‘wrong think’? For words said in a sixty second interaction where even the alleged victim calls this reaction way excessive? This criminalized, cancel culture is cancerous & precarious. That is why acquitting Amy Cooper is important.”
In comments to CNN in May, Cooper said she wanted to “publicly apologize to everyone.”
“I’m not a racist. I did not mean to harm that man in any way,” she said, adding that she also didn’t mean any harm to the African American community.
Christian Cooper acknowledged her apology but said her act was racist.
Johnson singled out athletes Lewis Hamilton and LeBron James for using their platforms to publicize and support the Black Lives Matter movement.
After winning the Hungarian Grand Prix last weekend, Hamilton criticized Formula One for “lacking leadership” in the fight against racism.
James used his media interview after his first scrimmage ahead of the NBA’s return to “shed light on justice for Breonna Taylor.”
Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency medical technician, was killed when police broke down the door to her apartment in an attempted drug sting and shot her eight times, in Louisville, Kentucky. A police officer involved in her fatal shooting was fired last month, according to the police department, more than three months after Taylor’s death.
None of the officers involved in the shooting has been charged with a crime.
Johnson said: “The sort of work that people like LeBron James and Lewis Hamilton [do] … in highlighting issues, bringing people to the table that ultimately, if they didn’t have that appreciation for Lewis and support the Mercedes F1 team, where they didn’t have that appreciation for LeBron James then they may not actually give this any thought.
“They pay attention to that athlete, that team that kneeled, it may get them to come to the table and have the discussion. And I think that’s really important.”
Johnson said that the movement is not about changing the minds of racist people, saying: “That’s who they [racist people] want to be. We may be able to change some of them, but this is about getting people who have privilege who aren’t racist, per se, but have privilege and who don’t understand that your privilege is at the expense of someone else.”
To watch the full interview, head to the CNN Sport’s Instagram account