Politics are considered a somewhat taboo topic in American pop culture, and yet those two things have overlapped throughout history. A large part of the modern person’s identity is our celebration of sports. From the pandemonium that is Super Bowl Sunday to the everyday chatter about last night’s game, professional athletes have become household names and in some cases historical figures ie. Muhammad Ali or Tiger Woods.
While athletes are made famous due to their athletic prowess, they are transformed into idols and public figures, and should look at their celebrity as an opportunity to create positive change in the world. At the end of the game, they are human beings who have opinions and ideas just as real as the rest of us, and they should be able to voice those opinions and ideas just as freely as we are. To say that just because a person is holding a basketball they have no right to do so is ridiculous.
Throughout history athletes have used their platforms to state their political beliefs and as a result have changed history forever. At the 1906 Olympic Games an Irish long-jumper Peter O’Conner climbed the flagpole and waved an Irish flag in order to protest the raising of the Union Jack. At the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City two African-American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos took gold and bronze and while on the medal podium, the two wore black gloves and raised their hands during the playing of America’s national anthem in a symbol of black power. Smith and Carlos both received heavy criticism in the aftermath of their act.
Football player Pat Tillman played with the Arizona Cardinals from 1998-2002. Following the September 11 terrorist attacks Tillman quit football and enlisted in the United States Army. In 2012 a University of Virginia football player Joseph Williams was a part of the Living Wage Campaign. He and about 20 other university students participated in a hunger strike in order to protest wages paid to university service workers. For eight days he survived on water and juice alone.
Following the murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in February 2012 basketball player LeBron James tweeted a photo of him and his Miami Heat teammates wearing hooded sweatshirts in homage to the sweatshirt Martin wore when he was killed along with the hashtag #WeAreTrayvonMartin.
When speaking at the University of Wisconsin in 2013, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers spoke about a cause he feels strongly about stating, “I’ve been given a platform based on the success that we’ve had as a team and that I’ve had individually What am I going to do? I have a voice, I have an opportunity to tell people what I care about. And I care about this deeply, I care about making an impact in this world.”
In August of last year when entering the field for a game against the Oakland Raiders, five St. Louis Rams players put their hands up, signifying, “Hands up, don’t shoot.”
The players were Stedman Bailey, Tavon Austin, Jared Cook, Chris Givens and Kenny Britt. In reaction, the St. Louis Police Officers Association demanded an apology for the act, which the players refused to provide.
What we as a culture seem to forget is that celebrities and others in the spotlight are still human beings. Human beings with emotions, feelings, and political opinions just like the rest of us.
For them to avoid bringing up their political beliefs would be an inauthentic representation of who they are.
If an athlete cares enough about something to be willing to face the consequences of sharing their feelings, I believe that they should be able to do so just like any non-athlete.
I don’t think the game of basketball is at all changed by a T-shirt.
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