At a crossroads: Student-athletes talk politics and sports

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A since-removed Oct. 4 tweet from Daryl Morey, the Houston Rockets’ general manager, has once again bridged the gap between athletics and politics. 

“Fight for freedom; stand with Hong Kong,” said the tweet’s captionless image. With only seven words, a conversation that repeats in the public eye like a metronome has resurfaced — the question of whether or not the sports world and the political world should intersect.

Protests surrounding political sentiments have been seen from former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, winger Megan Rapinoe for the National Women’s Soccer League and Los Angeles Lakers small forward LeBron James. 

Morey’s tweet was a rare political show from an executive in American professional sports. 

Lehigh student-athletes have supported Morey’s decision to speak out as part of the larger conversation between athletics and the political sphere.

I do think that athletes should have the autonomy to use their platform(s) in whatever they wish,” said Jamie Zamrin, ‘22, a member of the track and field team. “I don’t think that they can obviously speak for their entire teams, speak for their entire sport, or honestly, speak for anyone except themselves. But, I don’t think it’s wrong for someone who has a platform to use it.”

While the trend of athletes protesting social issues has its roots in professional sports, Lehigh student-athletes have voiced their opinions on diversity in athletic programs before. 

Emily Poole, ’20, a member of the women’s volleyball team, said there is a novelty to the student-athlete’s perspective on broader issues.

“While my platform is a little smaller in comparison to the general manager of a professional team, there’s definitely a lot you can do from my position,” Poole said.

Often, backlash to athletic protests draws on a perceived distraction in the locker room. Even in professional locker rooms, such as the 49ers‘, political difference has not always divided athletes.

Zamrin said she believes there is an even greater chance for understanding in college locker rooms. 

“When you have a more cohesive group of people, you’re going to feel more comfortable sharing your views.” Zamrin said. “(With) different opinions, you can talk about it and then afterwards, still have a great game, still have a great race and still have a great day together.”

Kip Yegon, ’20, a member of the men’s track and field team, said much of the pushback stems from fans who believe they can control individuals in an athletic organization.

He said he thinks much of the pushback feels racially motivated and directed toward people in marginalized groups.

“It’s like you’re a monkey in a cage,” Yegon said. “You’re like an animal in a circus — your only job is to play and entertain. To many people, that’s what athletes should do.”

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1 Comment

  1. Robert F Davenport Jr on

    What no comment on the reactions of China, Chinese nationals or NBA?

    “It’s like you’re a monkey in a cage,” Yegon said. “You’re like an animal in a circus — your only job is to play and entertain. To many people, that’s what athletes should do.” Athletes should be enjoying what they do. Intramural athletes and club athletes enjoy the competition without much appreciation for their efforts. Putting a monetary value on athletic performance can reduce the enjoyment. Those who can make money from their athletic abilities should do so. I don’t think college is the place to do so unless the sole association with the individual is only as a student. For the most part at Lehigh an athlete is a fellow student who happens to have a talent for sports, other students have other talents. The Marching 97 are also entertainers; they enjoy themselves. I don’t think they think of themselves as “animals in a circus” but if they do they are probably proud of it.

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