The 1960’s were a golden age for athlete activism. Bill Russell, Jim Brown, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Muhammad Ali and many others used their platforms to speak out against injustices that affected the black community. Tommie Smith and John Carlos used the worldwide stage of the 1968 Olympic Games as a platform to make a statement of pride and power of their people ( much to the chagrin and drawing the ire of then IOC president Avery Brundage). They all did this at major risk of their careers and even their lives to speak out against racial injustice.
Then, for what ever reason, for the following four plus decades, such voicing outs were few and far between.
It seems with the latest instances of recorded police shootings being brought to the masses via the power of social media, combined with the lack of justice in many of these cases, that same social media granted people a far reaching voice. The voices became a roar that even those in the athletic world could no longer could claim neutrality or ignore.
The planned sit down of the University of Missouri football team last season, the WNBA players protesting and speaking out against police murders, and most recently San Francisco 49ers’ QB Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand during the national anthem are recent example of athletes using their platforms to weigh in on racial injustice toward black people. The latest instance has drawn it’s ire from Barack Obama to Boomer Esiason. Despite the stance of some, Kaepernick’s stand, or kneel actually, has drawn support from fellow players including teammate Eric Reid ,Denver’s Brandon Marshall( who lost an endorsement deal for taking this stance) and Seattle’s Jeremy Lane have joined in kneeling during the national anthem. The Seattle Seahawks players stood with arms locked in unity during the playing of the anthem. It has also spread into other sports. Seattle Reign soccer player Megan Rapinoe kneeled during the anthem in support of Colin Kapernick. Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant separately stated they were in favor of his protest.
Curry had this to say:
I love that there’s freedom of speech and he can stand for what he believes in..There’s going to be people that disagree with him, there’s going to be people that agree with him, which is what I think our country stands for, which hopefully will drive the conversation to bettering the equal rights and treatment of African-Americans and people of color.
His teammate Kevin Durant had this to say when asked about the protest:
“I’m behind anyone who stands up for what they believe in. Colin Kaepernick is standing up for what he believes in. That’s what makes our country so great, right? You have the luxury to do so. He was unapologetic about it and, in his defense, I don’t think he was trying to disrespect anyone. I think he was trying to get his point across. I’m all for anyone who wants to do that. As athletes, we have this huge platform. A lot of people are watching at all times. Sometimes it may not be what you do, they like. But if you feel like it’s gonna be impactful, that’s on you. I feel like everyone should stand up for what they believe
Perhaps some of these athletes are beginning to understand the power and far reach of their platform and how they can use that to help enact positive change. I hope they now it is beginning to sink in that though they are insulated in many ways, they are still part of the real world and the happenings of the society can and will ultimately effect them or someone they know.