Rev. Al Sharpton's Weekly Blog

Don’t Discount the Underdog

Feb 16, 2012

Earlier this week, die-hard Knicks supporter and filmmaker Spike Lee joined my MSNBC show 'Politics Nation' to discuss a little non-political news: basketball is back with a vengeance. Thanks to the impeccable, almost unbelievable skills of 23-year-old Jeremy Lin, the sport and the Knicks themselves have seen a shocking resurrection from fans who grew increasingly exhausted of lock outs and negotiations. The timing couldn't be better; the story, some say, is 'Cinderella-like.' I prefer calling it a tale of perseverance; a narrative about the underdog triumphing after being consistently discounted. Perhaps, most importantly, it's a lesson for all of us to never look down upon the marginalized.

Some people believe life is a lottery, that if you're born into the correct circumstances, you will excel. I view life as an opportunity, that given an equal shot and a level playing field, anyone can achieve their dreams and reach excellence. Lin's rags-to-riches story is about more than just basketball. Continuously dismissed by teams -- including his own -- and literally sleeping on his brother's couch in Manhattan, the Taiwanese American is living proof that the underdog can and will win. After being benched for so long, Lin is finally given a chance by default and goes on to save the Knicks and bring such renewed craze to the game that it's virtually impossible to find any available tickets at Madison Square Garden for the season. The Harvard grad who nobody believed had such fantastic sports skills now has the fastest-growing athletic brand according to Forbes -- $14 million and rising.

Every day we walk past or ignore another Lin -- people who may not look like what society deems a 'winner.' People who have been silenced or beaten down by injustice. People who are suppressed with unequal access to quality education, employment, fair housing and safe neighborhoods. People who may be working multiple jobs, struggling to feed their children or figuring out how they will pay their rent. But given the right circumstances, all of these folks would shine just like Lin; there's a Lin in every school, church, job, etc. And just like Lin, you may be ignored, but it's vital to never lose sight of your own strengths and your own abilities. No matter how many times they try to force you down, rise and stand tall yet again. Keep fighting until the world knows your worth.

There's an old saying that teaches us to be the best at whatever it is we're doing. So if you're mopping floors, do it to perfection. If you're driving a bus, be the best bus driver there ever was. If you're teaching kids, prove that your knowledge can make a difference in someone's life. If you're an artist, practice, practice and practice until they can no longer overlook your talents. Regardless of what you're doing in life and how many doors have been slammed in your face, stay on track because sooner rather than later, your good work and gifts cannot be hidden. And just like Lin, the right opportunity will create the perfect circumstance for you to showcase your genius to the world.

And for those that would like to easily ignore or further disenfranchise people, just remember that the person you think may look like an easy target may very well be the one dunking over your head tomorrow.