Colin Kaepernick, photo by Mike Morbeck
Athletes have often become figures in the public that we look to for inspiration, direction, encouragement, and so many other things beyond being an athlete. But what happens when an athlete takes on more responsibility than we would like? In today’s digital world, we see more of each other’s lives than ever before through social media. Athlete’s like Lebron James, Colin Kaepernick, and many others have taken a stand for social justice on and off the court or field.
One of the first instances of athletes standing up for a cause beyond themselves was Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City when they gave the black power salute of a fist raised in the air while accepting their medals. This sparked national outrage, but also continued the dialogue of equality in America because of this action. What Smith and Carlos did was outlandish and considered crazy at the time, but ultimately paved the way for many other athletes after them to take up the cause.
In more recent years, athletes like Colin Kaepernick, a former NFL quarterback, have taken their efforts onto the field by taking a knee during the national anthem. This sparked national outrage and led to Kaepernick being ousted from the league.
Many thought that Kaepernick was in the right and achieved his goal of creating a dialogue around police brutality and inequality in the black communities. Others believed that there was no problem and Kaepernick was being disrespectful toward military, police, and other service members. This dialogue that was created by this action was good at bringing up issues but often difficult at creating the spaces to solve them with all who were involved.
Other athletes, such as Lebron James, have used their social platforms to spark change for social justice matters like Black Lives Matter. Many have scrutinized this use of his platform with the phrase, “Shut up and dribble.” James believes that his speech is used to create change in the community and not using his platform would be worse. Many other athletes have joined James in speaking about issues important to them which often polarizes those who disagree with the message, but also inspires many more to join the cause each athlete speaks for.
Athletes who have the ability to speak and have the platform to speak, have spoken for many years and will continue to speak more as long as they are given the platform to speak. By having more people in the conversation through public figures like athletes, it encourages more and more people in the world to engage and think critically about the world around them.