The Miami Heat are making headlines, and it has nothing to do with basketball.  It has to do with the seemingly racially charged shooting of Florida teen Trayvon Martin, their outrage, and their willingness to accept the leader/role model position that society so often tries to thrust upon them. @JoeBianchino

When self appointed neighborhood watch patrolman George Zimmerman gunned down Trayvon Martin, he set ablaze a firestorm of emotion and debate - racial profiling, stand your ground, race relations, etc.  The act lends itself to such debate, as 911 recordings paint the picture of a speculative, profiling Zimmeran, who details Martin as "Up to no good," and "On drugs or something."  The 911 calls also confirm that Zimmerman, ignoring advice from the dispatcher, followed Martin down the street - seemingly determined to not let him get away, as "These a*******" always do, as Zimmerman is so colorfully quoted on the call.

But of course, young Trayvon had nothing to get away with.  He wasn't on drugs.  He hadn't stolen the Skittles and iced tea that were in his possession.  His only crime seemed to be the heinous act of candy-ing while black - and it cost him his life.  And that sad truth hasn't escaped the Miami Heat.


The team stood united on Friday, posing for a picture at their team hotel with heads bowed beneath the hoods of their sweatshirts - a symbolic show of support for the teen who wore a hoodie the night he was killed, something that at least one commentator said contributed to the incident.  The team was lead to the show of solidarity by stars LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, both of whom grew up in worlds similar to those that have come to know this kind of senseless violence too well, and both of whom have two young sons.

Each mentioned their fatherhood as a reason why this tragedy has hit so close to home, but it was Wade who spoke to a larger, more impactful message.  In an interview with the Associated Press, Wade remarked, “I'm speaking up because I feel it's necessary that we get past the stereotype of young, black men and especially with our youth."  It's a bold step for Wade and James, to make such a statement in a world that increasingly tells our athletes to play ball and go home - that you're a role model and should know better when you get caught speeding, or swearing on camera; but that you should leave the discussion of politics to those more qualified.  And perhaps there's some truth to that.  I would certainly prefer my debt crisis analysis from Ben Bernanke over Zydrunas Ilgauskas.

But then again, the simple fact is this: There are some athletes who possess an intimate knowledge of this country's race problem.  And make no mistake, there is a race problem in this country.  There always has been.  It exists in prejudice and stereotype, in biases and misunderstanding.  Though it is not the evil fought in the 1950's and 60's, racism - across all ethnicities - has gone largely unchecked and un-confronted since the end of the Civil Rights Era.  Are there many more qualified to confront these issues than those who have felt their bitter sting?  Who better than those who have faced the challenge and risen to over come it?  Isn't there something to be said for these men - who could easily afford to live with blinders on - speaking out on an issue that they not only know, but are passionate about?

Their place in jump starting this catharsis seems all the more appropriate when examining the fact that the leaders who should be pushing forward this much needed debate are unwilling.  The wakes of tragedies like the death of Trayvon Martin represent the only time that several of our leaders take part in this discussion.  When the public outrage asuages, so too does their interest.  Why?  Because making a difference is a tertiary concern for too many of our politicians.  First is reelection.  Second is beating the oposition party.  Third is, if there's time, first we'll have a nap, then, maybe, making a difference.

And that is why this simple picture says so much more than a thousand words.  Because it's so much more than a picture.  It's a message.  It's a much needed statement.  This was wrong.  This needs to end.  We can't allow this anymore.

Information from ESPN.COM and the Associated Press contributed to this article.