Athletes speaking out on politics not new, should not be criticized

April 26, 2018

Sports and politics are going to intertwine; as much as some may hate the idea, it is impossible to avoid.

Yet, even though the idea of “athlete activism” isn’t a new thing, there remains to be a strong distaste toward professional athletes using their platform to address social issues. The most recent example of this ignorant position came when Fox News’ Laura Ingraham berated LeBron James for saying that President Trump “doesn’t give an (expletive) about the people.”

Her response was a sorry attempt at trying to dissuade the three-time NBA Champion. “Must they run their mouths like that?” Ingraham said. “Unfortunately, a lot of kids and some adults take these ignorant comments seriously. Look, there might be a cautionary lesson in LeBron for kids: This is what happens when you attempt to leave high school a year early to join the NBA. And it’s always unwise to seek political advice from someone who gets paid $100 million a year to bounce a ball. Oh, and LeBron and Kevin? You’re great players but no one voted for you. Millions elected Trump to be their coach. So keep the political commentary to yourself, or as someone once said, shut up and dribble.”

Wow, there is a lot to address there. “Must they run their mouths like that” is enough to fuel outrage, but the next couple of sentences are where the blood begins to boil. James should be considered a role model for kids because he chose to take a risk and use his talents and money to give back to charities in his home state of Ohio, including his own foundation that gives children transportation to school and college scholarships.

It’s also “unwise” to seek information from a Fox News host who criticizes a Parkland student for his grammar while in the same exact Tweet has a grammatical error. Millions also voted for Hillary Clinton, but of course we forget about that fact conveniently.

All of that jibberish is pointless. The fact is: sports figures will continue to speak up, since they have been for years. The pushback is absolutely nothing new. Whether it’s LeBron, or Curry, or Kaepernick, athletes will refuse to “shut up.”

Muhammad Ali was among the most iconic for his protest of the Vietnam War draft, as it cost him his championship titles, boxing licenses and three and a half years of a legendary career.

Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists after winning gold and bronze in the 1968 Summer Olympics and were sent home because of it.

More examples exist from the largest sports leagues in the world to college and high school players.

Athletes speaking out is not a bad thing. I repeat, the use of free speech is not a bad thing, particularly when some athletes are sacrificing their position, their earnings and their time in order to level the playing field for others.

The only problem lies in the people on the outside (particularly pundits and our current POTUS) that turn the argument around. The attempts to turn athletes into “liberal elites” is why the battle will never be over. Rather than focusing on the message, those like Ingraham try to twist the context into a negative light. Ingraham does not make a large difference in her community in the magnitude that James does. Trump did not have to sacrifice his wealth or his career when he “dodged the draft.”

James and other athletes should never their voices silent, as it inspires the next generation to use their voices for good. Especially when he still has to face discrimination (including a racial slur that was painted on the gate of his home over a year ago).

While it feels like a broken record, keeping the conversation going about athlete activism is how we progress forward as a nation. Also, if there are some that want to use the context of an athlete’s salary to weaken his or her message, it requires an equal analysis of the critic and the context around which they choose to speak.

The previous paragraph is just a nicer way of telling Ingraham and any future critic to walk a mile in their shoes. I’m sure they have never faced the degree of oppression and opposition that black athletes like James and Kaepernick have had to face.

Free speech is a two-way boulevard. It cannot be turned off like a basketball game on television when you don’t want to hear it.

It is time to stop telling those who want to use their platform to “shut up and dribble.” That is a better “cautionary lesson for kids.”

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