This year was filled with uncertainty that extended to the world of sports. It started during March, when all of sports shut down due to concerns over COVID-19. Then, social unrest began to erupt prompting many athletes to stand up not just for themselves, but in support of others. Sports eventually resumed but that didn't stop notable sports figures from meeting these challenges head on. Here are some notable people who made a big influence in the sports world.
1. LeBron James
On the court, LeBron James made his mark. After being derailed by injuries last year, he put up MVP numbers, led the Los Angeles Lakers to the best record in the Western Conference, and won his fourth NBA championship as well as Finals MVP. When James retires, this will be remembered as one of his most impressive seasons. To maintain the same skills and still have a winning effect on his team in his mid 30s is really amazing. James has almost made as big an impact off the court as he has on the court. He spoke out on police brutality through social media and during press conferences in the bubble. This included a video in which he concludes, "This is why we can't just stick to sports. Do you understand now?" In addition, he launched a website More Than a Vote, which focuses on giving Black people access to voting. By the time of the election, James had successfully prevented many people from having their voices suppressed, Last month, James's efforts of social activism were rewarded with the Sports Illustrated Muhammad Ali Legacy Award, and the Time's Magazine Athlete of the Year.
2. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Throughout his career, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar established himself as one of the most dominant big men in NBA history. His accolades include a record six MVP awards, the most career points at 38,387, and six championships. Along with his success, he is one of the first basketball players to speak out against social issues. Last July, he delivered a powerful message on the fight for social justice in an edition of the NBA on TNT. He reflected on the turning point toward using his voice when he, along with other athletes, supported Muhammed Ali's refusal to fight in Vietnam. During the video, he stated "To witness Ali's unwavering integrity even as the government spent years trying to destroy him was a turning point for me. How could I do any less? How can any American do any less? How can any American athlete do any less?" That same month, Kareem also cited the importance of fighting against other forms of discrimination amid the Black Lives Matter movement such as anti-Semitism. Although his playing days are long passed, his voice is still as important as it was over 50 years ago.
3. Patrick Mahomes
Despite only having three full seasons under his belt, with two as a starter, Patrick Mahomes is already on top of the football world. He has already become the fastest quarterback to reach over 10,000 career passing yards, as well as over 100 touchdown passes which took him only 44 games to surpass that milestone. Earlier in February, Mahomes led the Kansas City Chiefs to their first Super Bowl championship in 50 years, in a game where he led what turned out to be the game winning drive. After the game, he was announced as the Super Bowl MVP, the youngest to ever win the award. When it has come to social justice, Mahomes has put his accolades to the side and has been an advocate. In June, he participated in a Black Lives Matter video with fellow athletes, pushing the NFL to publicly condemn racism. He was also one of the high-profile athletes to join James' More than a Vote campaign. A month later, Mahomes signed the richest contract extension of any athlete at over $500 million. With the Chiefs currently aiming toward another Super Bowl, Mahomes is slowly becoming an icon.
4. Laurent Duvernay-Tardif
For his first six seasons, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif was a regular starter for the Kansas City Chiefs. Like Mahomes, he won his first Super Bowl with the Chiefs in February. However, it was off the field where Duvernay-Tardif wanted to make an impact. During July, he became the first NFL player to opt out of the season because of COVID-19. Duvernay-Tardif wanted to join the front lines in the fight against the virus. He did this by working long term at a healthcare facility in his native hometown of Montreal. Weeks ago, Duvernay-Tardif's impact was recognized by Sports Illustrated who named him as one of their Sportspeople of the Year. In addition, he was awarded the Lou Marsh trophy, which is given to the top Canadian athlete every year. This is well deserved for Duvernay-Tardif, who decided to give up football for a year to help prevent COVID-19 off the field.
This was a year that presented different challenges beyond sports. From COVID-19, to the fight for social justice for Blacks, there has been a lot of uncertainty and unrest in the world. Everyone has taken on these challenges in their respective ways. These current and former athletes not only faced these problems, but have done so in a way that should continue to inspire people into the new year.