Athletes speak up.
For those who think athletes should “just stick to sports,” I’d ask you to look up “activist investor” and/or “shareholder activism.” Maybe we can discuss how these are different and/or similar.
It cannot be forgotten that athletics are often an individual achievement area (tennis, track and field) and/or an objective field where your accomplishments are not based on “fit” or other subjective criteria. It’s one of the areas where the scoreboard can’t lie; in many ways, these exceptional individuals are so groundbreaking because they shine a light in areas that are more murky and allow blackness to continue to be associated with inferiority.
Jesse Owens — The 1936 Summer Olympics were hosted by Adolf Hitler, who wished to use the platform to show off his fascist Nazi propaganda. Hitler skipped the medal ceremonies. Owens won 4 golds. It’s important to start here because Jesse Owens’ presence and achievement was “activism” in and of itself.
John Carlos (bronze winner) originally wanted to be a swimmer, but the training to do so was not accessible (segregated facilities). “The first thing I thought was the shackles have been broken,” Carlos says, casting his mind back to how he felt in that moment. “And they won’t ever be able to put shackles on John Carlos again. Because what had been done couldn’t be taken back. Materially, some of us in the incarceration system are still literally in shackles. The greatest problem is we are afraid to offend our oppressors.
More info on the iconic black power fist raise at the Olympics — including the IOC sending Jesse Owens to talk them out of it, the public response calling the display “nasty, ugly and angry” and calls for suspension by the IOC and — (here).
Serena Wiliams and LeBron James are both at the top of their game and considered the greatest of all time in their respective sports. Both came under fire for addressing police brutality and their legitimate fears for their own safety, that of their non-famous family members or the broader black population.
Either Nike approached them or they used their leverage to help get the equality video produced. Either way, athletes with a lot to lose have decided to advocate (not shaming Michael Jordan, but we could discuss his role in all of this as well). It covers all forms of equality which is incredible advocacy and allyship. Special shout out to Andy Murray for fact-checking a commentator in a display of great allyship. Video and background here.
I’ve included Colin Kaepernick who is taking a stand (by taking a knee) because he’s not at the top of his game, but goes to show you don’t need to be the #1 athlete in your field to advocate for what you believe. He’s not perfect and him not voting in the election does bother me, but he’s started a movement and national conversation about the anthem. Thoughts here:
There are so many others who I could name for their activism that have paved the way (Muhammad Ali, Bill Russell, etc) for today’s stars. I thought it was important to highlight the contrast of the every 4 year Olympics versus the everyday platform on which contemporary athletes speak. I can send links your way if you want more info.
But let’s take a look at an area that is not covered so much in America: racism in soccer. Perhaps it is because racism outside of the US has a different context and those who are the targets of racism may not identify in the US context of what “black” means or their teammates don’t care/feel powerless/think it’s not a big deal/etc.
It’s likely easier to say millionaire athletes have no worries about racism, but what do we say to those who are still having bananas or racial slurs hurled at them? Should they take a knee, or wear a shirt or just stick to sports?
Part of a 28-day series of reflections, stories and feelings for Black History Month 2017. Read all parts (here).