OPINION: The age of athletes not getting involved in politics Is over

There will not be a quick ending to these injustices. The US will never be a country where 100% of the population is not racist and there are no racist, hateful people. What is possible, though, is to listen to those who have been discriminated against. Many athletes have had bad experiences with racial issues in this country, and using their platforms, change can be made. People can see these issues that are happening to society’s greatest athletes. World class athletes, yes the same ones that are on TV every night, go through the same experiences as everyone else, and they too want racial equality.

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Photo via: MIKE EHRMANN/GETTY IMAGES

Marc Goldstein, Assistant Editor in Chief

In the wake of the Jacob Blake shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin, there has been quite a bit of unrest in the country. The unrest has been prevalent since George Floyd’s shooting in early June, and in a much quieter manner, since the country’s inception in 1776. African American people have always felt a sense of inequality in the US, ever since they were forced to become slaves in the 1800s to the segregation era where the African American community was literally separated from the rest of the general population. Since then, times have changed, but seemingly no progress has been made on creating a safe, peaceful space for the African American community. 

The forgotten piece of the whole Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement is the real reason that it is happening. Those who are opposed to it seem to believe in the fact that Black people are not entitled to the same rights as white people. These are the same people who relish in African American culture, music, and still believe in the fact that this community is less than theirs. Nonetheless, there is no reason to argue the validity of BLM, because it is not only valid, but after the Covid-19 pandemic, it is the biggest problem facing the country right now. 

Athletes have long been told to “shut up and dribble” (or another variation depending on the sport). When players began to protest back when Colin Kaepernick took a political stand, there were a lot of critics of the movement. Critics said that the players were wrong, they shouldn’t get involved in politics, among other things. These types of comments have been labeled as something from the “old guard,” or an unmodernized belief system. Since then, athletes like LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and other big stars, not limited to basketball, but most notably from basketball. Athletes have become more involved in politics and have been more outspoken on social issues, specifically the mistreatment of African Americans. These players have not only publicly criticized President Trump, but have also spoken out on social issues, like the George Floyd and Jacob Blake issues. James recently tweeted an explicit response to what is going on in the country, saying, “…We demand change. Sick of it!!!” His response to the occurences in the country were echoed by next to every player in the league, regardless of race. 

Still, there are many people in the country hating on athletes who are trying to influence public policy. They want a separation between sports and politics, similar to that of church and state. There has been a very clear message from every athlete, former athlete, and member of every organization in sports recently. That message is that the age of athletes staying quiet on politics is over. They might be athletes, but they are citizens as well, and have every right to talk about politics, just like anyone else. These athletes have been seen in the streets protesting with BLM and trying to fix injustices in this country. Like it or not, athletes are much more influential than most politicians right now. Politicians are seen as divisive figures in society, specifically the United States. Politicians are known as people that half the population adores, and half the population despises. Personal opinions aside about the president, it is clear that his supporters love him to death and his opposers want to get rid of him. The strong feelings on either side of the argument make them very divisive people. Athletes on the other hand, are very much like most citizens. They come from different parts of the country, from different economic lifestyles, and come to bring entertainment to a fanbase who cheers them on. The fact of the matter is, unless a player is on a team that is unlikeable, it is hard to truly hate an athlete. There are, of course special cases, where an athlete has done certain things, like commit a crime to gain public distaste. 

Athletes carry a large amount of public following. Take James for example, he has millions of followers across his social media pages, endorsements, and even his own school he made in his hometown of Akron, Ohio. He reaches more people than most politicians do, excluding the President and a few others. So when he speaks out on an injustice in society, the amount of people who see it pop up on their Twitter or Instagram feeds are numerous. James, in many ways, is someone who is a key to fixing society’s issues when it comes to BLM. He is a successful athlete from a poor family in Ohio and has made money by keeping his friends from high school around as his partners. He is living out the American Dream. He has blazed his own path and the name “LeBron” is a household name. 

People who are against athletes being outward about their views are, in fact, the problem. These are the same people who will say BLM is not important and that will support the killers of these innocent people. They want two separate worlds, politics and sports. The barriers that once existed have been broken down. Those walls have been long destroyed because the fact is the world where athletes and politics were separate simply didn’t work. If it had worked, there would be no racial problems in the 21st century, a time in which people are very proud of being educated on these issues. Whether an issue is big or small, everyone in this country is allowed to not only have an opinion, but be vocal about it. Why should it be any different for athletes and public figures? Just because a person reveres an athlete for their accomplishments, that doesn’t mean that person is not allowed to have a political opinion. 

One thing that has stood out recently is what each professional league has done to support the movement. The NBA initially had teams boycott to play their playoff games. Then, the NBA postponed the playoffs until the weekend (8/29-30). They have had countless discussions with players about leaving the bubble to protest. The biggest theme that has been talked about is that if a player wants to leave the bubble to protest, that is one thing, but a player must not only go home with the intention of reuniting with their family, but because they want to make a change in public policy. Jaylen Brown of the Boston Celtics says it best, saying, “If you leave, are you just leaving because you’re lonely? Or will you go out and be in the trenches and support protests? Don’t just talk about it — be about it.” Likewise, the NFL, another heavily African American sport, has decided to postpone activities, although those are just pre-season workouts for the teams. The tricky situation was one that happened in Major League Baseball, a sport that symbolizes a lot of the race issues in the country. The MLB has long had a difficult time attracting the African American demographic as both fans and players. Percentages of black players in the MLB is historically low, and the league offices are doing everything they can to attract the African American community to their game. Also, MLB has a lot of fans that are older and have some outdated views. While it is not as extreme as in the days of Jackie Robinson (MLB’s first Black player), there are still a large number of fans who are against BLM and the whole movement. So much so, that when the MLB published a statement of support for BLM, there were numerous comments on the post saying to keep the movement away from the sport and things along those lines. This is unacceptable and fans of the game should understand that there is no place to separate sports and politics – They are now one. That is what leagues like the NBA and NFL do so well. They incorporate political movements into the game and into the locker rooms, making Black players feel safe and at ease in these settings. 

There is doubt that this racial justice argument is far from over. Unfortunately, more lives will be lost in this fight, that is simply how change is made. There needed to be a whole civil war to make slavery illegal. There will not be a quick ending to these injustices. The US will never be a country where 100% of the population is not racist and there are no racist, hateful people. What is possible, though, is to listen to those who have been discriminated against. Many athletes have had bad experiences with racial issues in this country, and using their platforms, change can be made. People can see these issues that are happening to society’s greatest athletes. World class athletes, yes the same ones that are on TV every night, go through the same experiences as everyone else, and they too want racial equality. People like LeBron James will be key in ending these racial issues, from his campaign to vote to a multitude of other social issues, these athletes becoming more vocal on issues can only help society. So if they are going to help, there is no reason to criticize them for it.