Athletes and Activism: Don’t stick to sports


Brian Reiff

Stick to sports.

It’s an expression heard these days pretty much anywhere on the internet. ESPN? Check. The New York Times? You bet. The Independent Florida Alligator? Sure, why not.

Side note: Clearly, this is a topic that has been written about extensively by many people more talented than me. Go read their takes if you want, I don’t care. I already got your click.­

For those of you who don’t frequent those corners of the internet, however, I’ll explain the sentiment behind the expression.

Essentially, some people view athletes — and columnists, television personalities, really anyone affiliated with sports — solely as a means of entertainment. They’re only valuable when they’re playing or talking about sports. As soon as they exit that stage and begin a discourse about something else, they’re told to stick to their profession as a way of invalidating their message.

Of course, this response is ridiculous.

Just because someone is an athlete doesn’t mean they’re not also a human with thoughts and feelings, or a citizen who has a right to voice their opinion on the state of affairs in their country.

In fact, many of these athletes have more of a reason than most to start up these discussions. There are countless stories of athletes who came from poverty or experienced discrimination at some point in their lives because of their race or sexuality.

When they try to bring up the issues that have plagued them in an attempt to make the world better for those that follow them, they are told, often by a straight white male sitting in his parents’ basement — not me, I swear — that their opinions are irrelevant.

The real reason people want athletes to stick to sports, though, might have more to do with fear than pure disrespect or malice. While some undoubtedly use the expression because they don’t value the athletes as actual human beings, there are others who try to silence these athletes because of the widespread audience their voices command.

Athletes, perhaps more than any other profession, serve as role models for the younger generation. Ask any kid what they want to be when they grow up, and those who don’t say they want to be an astronaut will likely tell you they want to play professional sports. Then they’ll tell you their favorite player is Tom Brady or Grayson Allen or some other loathsome human being and make you question your faith in humanity.

Because athletes are so revered by this impressionable group, it’s imperative they do what they can to make the world a better place.

When four of the biggest faces of the NBA — LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade — all speak about the Black Lives Matter movement preceding a national awards broadcast, those watching that speech are more likely to take that message to heart than if they heard the same thing from a friend always pestering them about racial equality.

That is the other reason athletes should feel empowered to speak their minds: because they have the platform to do so. They have the ability to reach millions of Americans on any given day and inspire them to follow the example they’re setting.

Many athletes have realized that and are using it to raise awareness of troubling issues of personal importance. Many of those examples have previously appeared in this column. Athletes are embracing their roles as leaders and using their platforms to generate real change now more than ever before.

It’s no coincidence this uptick in activism has come as the division in this country has worsened. The issues these athletes are standing up for have all captured national attention at one point another, especially in the months leading up to the election last year.

Race, particularly, has been one of the most divisive topics in this country going back even further than that, but equality between genders, sexualities, gender identities and religions are all still being talked about.

While there are still Americans out there who fail to recognize the injustice that exists in this country, the need for activism from elevated figures will continue to be necessary. They are the ones who are able to help drive change through the platforms their sports afford them.

So, no, don’t stick to sports. Continue standing up for what you believe in. And then, maybe, somebody like you won’t have to.

Brian Reiff, ’17, is the deputy sports editor for The Brown and White. He can be reached at [email protected]

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