Sports and Activism and Athletes

Activism in sports is a… touchy subject, to say the least.

You’ve got your diehard “sports and politics are SEPARATE!” folks (who, interestingly enough, don’t speak up when an an athlete supports their views) and the “athletes HAVE to talk about politics” people (who will praise an athlete for agreeing with their stance and shame an athlete for having opposing views).

And then there are the more moderate: people like myself, who think that athletes should speak up and should be given the opportunity to speak their opinions, but that it should not be an expectation of them.

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John Carlos and Tommy Smith at the 1968 Olympics

People who say activism doesn’t belong in sports need to read up on their history. People like Billie-Jean King (pictured in the header), Muhammad Ali, Bill Russel, John Carlos and Tommy Smith were strong enough to stand up for what they believed in. King won a tennis match against Bobby Briggs, proving that women could play a traditionally men’s sport and even outplay the guys; Ali made strides for black and Muslim men in lengths that haven’t been matched by anyone.

Russel was one of the individuals at the forefront of the civil rights movement, and taught at integrated basketball camps; Carlos and Smith raised a fist at the 1968 Olympics after winning the gold and silver medals in support of the Black Power movement.

Activism has given many minorities the right to participate in sports. The athletes who had the courage, the drive and the strength to stand up for their fellow athletes are the ones who paved the way for athletics to be where it is now.

Activism might be important, but the importance of activism and the impact it has on the future does not overshadow the safety and comfort of athletes. They might be put on a stage when they’re on the field, or the court, or the ice, but they are real people, not just entertainers.

And the audience can be nasty.

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When Colin Kaepernick kneeled during the National Anthem at a football game, you’d think he’d declared open war on the United States military by the way the fans exploded. He got huge amounts of hate on social media, and the amount of disrespect that he received would have been hard for anyone to deal with.

All for supporting a movement.

But Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft can openly show their support for Donald Trump, one of – if not the – most divisive individuals in America, and the same crowd doesn’t bat an eye.

It’s no wonder that some athletes are hesitant to engage in activism, when this is the reaction they get.

As reporters, this is something I think should become the norm. Ask the questions, don’t be afraid to, but read the situation as well. If the player looks uncomfortable, don’t keep pushing them.

It’s our job as reporters to cover the issues. If an athlete is speaking out about a movement, we should be covering it. We should be the means through which an athlete conveys their point.

And while social media might allow athletes to get their own point across, it’s the media’s job to delve deeper into the athlete’s reasoning, get information and backstory that can’t be conveyed through a tweet, and be disseminating that to the public, free of the reporter’s bias and their opinion. It’s about the athlete and their views, not the reporter’s.

It’s the athlete’s job to speak up if they are comfortable doing so. It’s the media’s job to accurately report what they’re doing, and why.

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