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AP photo by Ray Carlin / ESPN's Chris Fowler, left, and Kirk Herbstreit, center, talk with Baylor football coach Matt Rhule before the Bears' home game against Okahoma last Nov. 16.

The unexpected.

Isn't that what makes sports great? Isn't that also what made ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit's tear-filled soliloquy on racial injustice so stunning and touching Saturday as "College GameDay" returned for the 2020 season?

This isn't to say his emotional proclamation, each second more uncomfortable to watch than the one before it, will dramatically alter 400 years of Black suffering in this country. It almost certainly won't.

But there was something achingly authentic and soul-searching — for our souls, not his — regarding these words from Herbstreit: "The Black community is hurting. How do you listen to these stories and not feel pain and not want to help? You can't relate to that if you're white, but you can listen and you can try to help, because this is not OK."

If this awful summer has taught us anything, not much beneath the surface has been OK regarding race relations in this otherwise great country of ours for a long, long time, if ever. Actually, the word is probably NEVER, at least from the Black perspective, which is why Black America is voicing its concerns like never before.

We've integrated schools and made equal opportunity the law when it comes to jobs and housing and such, but it hasn't done nearly what it should have to give Black people and white people the same experiences and opportunities.

What was so powerful and unexpected about Herbstreit's message during Saturday's show was that few media members could be justly labeled a poster boy for "white privilege" more than Herbstreit, who was not only the blond-haired, blue-eyed co-captain quarterback of The Ohio State Buckeyes during his senior season, but also the son of Jim Herbstreit, who was also an OSU co-captain during his playing days and later an assistant coach for the program under Woody Hayes.

In some ways, the Herbstreits are the Manning clan of Ohio.

So he's not only white, he's cushy-as-a-velvet-pillow white. Or as someone wrote on Twitter after seeing Herbstreit's plea: "I love Kirk, but grew up in the same suburb he did and I can guarantee that nobody from my neck of the woods will be moved to tears over social and human injustice. It felt a bit weird."

Yet here Herbstreit was on national cable television, completely losing his composure over the desperate need for far more understanding and action when it comes to putting an end to systemic racism.

"We've got to do better," Herbstreit said, choking back tears. "We've got to lock arm and arm and be together."

We are all beginning to fray at the edges, if not all over. Little to no good news will do that to a nation.

Dealing with the coronavirus pandemic alone would understandably have made a good many of us paranoid basket cases. Throw in the economic disaster for many folks that has accompanied the pandemic, then top it all off with nationwide racial unrest after the horrific killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks at the hands of law enforcement officers who should have known better, plus the shooting of Jacob Blake seven times in the back by a policeman in Kenosha, Wisconsin, an incident that has left Blake paralyzed from the waist down, and it's too much for everyone.

Three strikes and we're out of our minds with both fear and anger.

But are we learning anything? Are we pulling together or pushing further apart? Are we at the beginning of the end of the worst time in our lives? Or are we near the end of the beginning of a very long reckoning for past wrongs?

In the beginning of his thoughts on racial injustice, Herbstreit recalled a recent conversation he'd had with Stanford football coach David Shaw, who is Black. He said Shaw reminded of him of something Benjamin Franklin is credited with saying.

"Justice will not be served," noted Franklin, "until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are."

If Herbstreit is speaking for more white folks than himself, justice may finally be getting closer by the day.

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Mark Wiedmer

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @TFPWeeds.

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