OPINION: An athlete is more than an athlete

From Issue 7 (as updated)


Every day throughout the United States, people with any sort of platform, both local and national, take to the media to voice their opinions. This is seen as acceptable, and it is even sometimes encouraged by many people all across the country.

However, there is one group with an extremely popular national platform that is not only discouraged to share their opinions, but they are even verbally berated if they do. This group is also responsible for having a fanbase of over ninety-three percent of the United States adult population.

Yes, this group is all of the athletes that are playing professional sports in America. Pro athletes in the U.S. have one of the largest and most viewed platforms in the entire country, yet they can’t use this platform to voice their own opinions because they will be criticized if they do.

In early 2018, Lebron went on the television show UNINTERRUPTED and voiced his opinions about U.S. president Donald Trump. Not long after his comments, Fox News host Laura Ingraham went on air and attacked James by saying, “It’s always unwise to seek political advice from someone who gets paid $100 million a year to bounce a ball.” She also went on to tell him to “shut up and dribble.”

These comments did not sit well with the sports community and they did not go over well with James either. Within the coming days, a new movement was started, and this movement was created to support athletes and their right to voice their own opinions.

The campaign got people all over the nation to get behind the slogan “I am more than an athlete.” Along with James, other sports figures like fellow NBA all-star Kevin Durant decided to get involved.

However, it wasn’t until the start of this month that the campaign took the national headlines by storm again as President Trump sent out a tweet saying, “Lebron James was just interviewed by the dumbest man on television, Don Lemon. He made Lebron look smart, which isn’t easy to do. I like Mike!”, just a week after Lebron opened a school in his hometown of Akron, Ohio for underprivileged children. After these comments, the movement picked up an innumerable amount of steam, and even non-athletes like Ohio governor John Kasich and CNN’s Don Lemon got involved.

Lebron’s bold move to try to give athletes the right to their own opinion was controversial at the time, but in the end, it did not have any lasting effects on his career. Athletes like former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick were not so lucky.

In 2016, while with the 49ers, Kaepernick made his feelings known by taking a knee during the national anthem of his team’s games. He did this to protest the oppression that he believed people of color were facing in the United States. This became a national headline, and it got many other players all over the league to follow in his footsteps, but it also created a lasting impact on his career that he is still living with. Shortly after the conclusion of the 2016-2017 season, Kaepernick opted out of his 49ers contract because he was likely on the brink of being released. Ever since the two parties broke apart, Kaepernick has not been signed by another NFL franchise.

This is just one occurrence where the player voicing his or her opinions ended poorly, but it is not the only time this has happened. The following summer, many players in the WNBA asserted their opinions of the police involved shootings that were occurring at the time by wearing all black t-shirts during the pregame warmups of their teams’ contests. The players who participated in this were then fined by the league for violating team dress code.

All of these athletes believed that they needed to voice their viewpoints on these topics because no one else would, and many of them paid consequences for it. However, they have not been the only athletes in history to step out from the status quo that exists in America.

In the mid to late 20th century athletes like star college and NFL running back Jim Brown and all-star NBA player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar also decided to speak out. Both athletes were against the laws that were holding down their race‘s rights, and both of them were not afraid to speak out about it. These two athletes were just two of many during the time period, but the point is that it doesn’t matter who is saying these things, it just matters whether or not the people around them are willing to get behind them and make a difference.

The athletes of both the past and of today are saying these things not to bring attention to themselves but to the topic(s) that they are fighting for. This is all that these athletes are trying to do, but many of things that they are fighting for will not become a reality until both the public and the national media take them seriously.