Even though it is an avenue that countless athletes don’t want to take part of on the grounds that their livelihoods can depend on it, it is crucial that the black athletes never cease to stand up in the face of inequality for many reasons. Frankly, we are past the days where athletes were just athletes.
Bottom line is that minority athletes or black athletes to be specific, take up a lion’s share of players in the top four major sports in America. Athletes are in fact the ones we all look up to, the ones we aspire to be, and the ones we respect. Even if you call yourself a white supremacist, there is no way that you can be a sports fan without actually admiring the black athlete (Regan, 2011).
In the past, a paradoxical yet symbiotic relationship generally characterized whatever relationship existed between sports and politics. The big American leagues, especially the N.F.L. and Major League Baseball, gave every indication of wanting to distance themselves from partisan frictions (Eig, 2017).
They typically prefer to honor troops, fly fighter jets over stadiums and hold moments of silence to honor the victims of tragedies. When they tackle overtly political issues, it’s through selective editing and legacy building. The settled politics of the past, where details can be kept few and the tone nostalgic, are fine(Hsu, 2017). We know, for example, that Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color line, stole home and wore 42 on his back. Muhammad Ali championed equality and said some funny stuff to Howard Cosell. Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs. Their lionization reassures us that the stands they took were good — and can now be consigned to bygone eras (DeLorme, 2010) .
The tension between sport as a site of community versus protest led to a number of articles debating the role of an athlete is in terms of social movements and pro- test. On one hand, athletes are asked to just be athletes and help by distracting the public for a few hours. On the other hand, as seen in the article by Danielle Sarver Coombs and David Cassilo, athletes are asked to use their position to speak in forums that others cannot. Caught between these two ideas, athletes themselves are often the ones asked to decide their role (Coombs & Cassilo, 2017).
The truth is that sports wouldn’t be what they are today without black athletes. Being a professional athlete is probably one of the most desired careers in the world. All of this is considerably why black athletes have to carry forward in following the footsteps of Muhammad Ali, John Carlos and the others who came before them. This is why they have to keep leading the way and keep setting the example for others who look up to them (Jabbar, 2015).
Athletes, and especially black athletes have an enormous platform that they should use to make a difference. People are always watching them. Their every move is observed. Everything they say and do is closely scrutinized and criticized. Regardless, people are going to have their opinions and preconceived notions. People are going to feel how they feel about any athlete, no matter what they do and the reality is that no one can change anyone’s mind.
Black male athletes were among the most important and influential voices during the 1960s civil rights movement. Their impact was and is a crucial one, considering the fact that professional athletes are uniquely positioned to serve as agents of social change (Pelak, 2005) and their influence can potentially affect the attitudes and beliefs of their fans (Melnick & Jackson, 2002).
This is by no means an easy pursuit, however. Particularly since the 1980s, athletes have been “driven by market forces and, subsequently, the benefits for individual expression and human potential may be severely curtailed” (Kaufman & Wolff, 2010, p. 155). For athletes, the decision to engage publicly on potentially controversial topics such as civil rights, racial equality, and social justice issues can be risky; being a “jock for justice” (Dreier & Candaele, 2004) can have serious repercussions.
Fans often are resistant to athletes who choose to speak up in support of social issues, and “such reprimands often involve fans reminding athletes to stick to ‘what they know best’ (e.g., playing the sport)” (Schmittel & Sanderson, 2015, p. 336). As Kaufman (2008) discovered, athletes who use their platforms to advocate for social and/or political causes often find themselves criticized and marginalized. This is particularly true for Black athletes who face stereotypes of being brawny rather than brainy, and thus are not expected to be (or welcomed into) debates about politics or current affairs.
Stephen Curry fits perfectly in the category of the athletes that are not afraid to speak up on what some may deem as sensitive matters. He is affiliated with a hugely popular brand like under armor and has a multi million dollar contract that will run till 2024 but that did not scare him from questioning the CEO when he made comments suggesting his allegiance with Trump. It left a sour taste in many of the brands loyal customers when he boldly made the statement that “To have such a pro-business president is something that is a real asset for the country,”(Green, 2017).
“I spent all day yesterday on the phone,” Curry said, “with countless people at Under Armour, countless people in Kevin Plank’s camp, my team, trying to understand what was going on and where everybody stood on the issue. Based off the release that KP sent out this morning, and what he told me last night, that’s the Under Armour that I know. That’s the brand I know he’s built and one that, as of Wednesday afternoon, is something that I’m standing on.”
But would Curry really leave Under Armour, the company that helped launch his empire, if he didn’t like the direction of the company?
“If there is a situation where I can look at myself in the mirror and say they don’t have my best intentions, they don’t have the right attitude about taking care of people,” Curry said. “If I can say the leadership is not in line with my core values, then there is no amount of money, there is no platform I wouldn’t jump off if it wasn’t in line with who I am. So that’s a decision I will make every single day when I wake up. If something is not in line with what I’m about, then, yeah, I definitely need to take a stance in that respect.”
Following the backlash, Under amour issued a long statement and the main points were as follows; “We engage in policy, not politics. We believe in advocating for fair trade, an inclusive immigration policy that welcomes the best and the brightest and those seeking opportunity in the great tradition of our country, and tax reform that drives hiring to help create new jobs globally, across America and in Baltimore (Green, 2017).
“We have teammates from different religions, races, nationalities, genders, and sexual orientations; different ages, life experiences, and opinions. This is the core of our company. At Under Armour, our diversity is our strength, and we will continue to advocate for policies that Protect Our House, our business, our team, and our community.”(Green, 2017)
How much of the call for action from these athletes actually ends up ensuing?
We have seen recent successful rallies that took place to end gun violence but not one of the so called black athletes that stand behind black lives matter have attended these. Not everything can be solved through social media platforms.
Professional Athletes have always been political. They only latterly acquired the means to explain themselves so directly to their fans. Where Hodges’s generation worked hard to blandish themselves with the American mainstream, today’s athletes enjoy a relative freedom when it comes to speaking their minds, taking delicate political stands, or acting with a sort of blunt frankness. It is what makes today’s players convey the impression of distinctness: their amplitude to dispense more in a late-night Instagram post than a decade of carefully stage-managed, Nike-approved Jordan documentaries. Perhaps the difference between then and now is just an ingrained awareness that everything is political. The game resists our yearning for it to be an escape from the rest of life, where the criterion can seem arbitrary and unforeseeable, and there can be one winner to every ninety-nine who have lost (HSU, 2017).
Perhaps it would not be as frightening for athletes to speak up on social issues if they knew they had the support from the media and their respective teams?
In fact the media may contribute by ending the constant stereotypical remarks that they usually attach to these athletes which make it undoubtedly hard for the fans that do not share the same hardships as black athletes to relate to their struggles. Some these include the ideas that black athletes are only good on the courts and are genetically gifted which implies that they can get way with inputing less work to perfect their crafts.
We need leaders. We need athletes who will continue to use their platforms for the right reasons. We need athletes who have faith in something that is greater than themselves. We need athletes who can communicate their stance on issues while maintaining their morals and integrity, and ones who want to set the bar higher. It’s 2018, rancor and dissimilarity are more rampant than ever, but black athletes have the power to lead the movement against it.
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