Athletes' Message to America
Events of the past several weeks have shown that there is profound social unrest in our country. Over centuries, African Americans have been discriminated against in many different ways, recently escalating with incidents of police brutality and violence. At least three African Americans - Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd - were killed by either the police or white civilians earlier this year. Thousands of protests are happening all over America as a way of responding to the injustice. As a result, many athletes have been using their social platform to create change, take a stand, and call for action.
Notable athletes have been vocal for change, using their platform to speak out. One of those players has been none other than LeBron James. He has made many social media posts expressing the difficulties of being an African American, letting people know the reasons for his activism, and stating that white people always command African Americans what to do. He made an emotional video with the sound of a basketball hitting the floor and as the ball hit the floor, a new white command would pop up. The captions went from "Shut up and dribble", which Fox News anchor Laura Ingraham told him back in 2018, to "Shut up and lay still." James concluded the video saying, "This is why we can't just stick to sports. Do you understand now?" Colin Kaepernick has probably earned the most praise from other athletes and coaches since he kneeled for the national anthem during the 2016 NFL season. His purpose was to draw attention to all of the racism and police brutality against African-Americans. He's now became a symbol of resistance to the unfair treatment of African Americans. Recently, he created a legal defense initiative called Know Your Rights Camp "for victims of excessive force by police terrorism and civil rights violations."
NFL and MLB players have created group videos for their own respective leagues condemning racism. The NFL video featured Patrick Mahomes, Michael Thomas, Deshaun Watson, and others. All of the players pushed the NFL to make a statement condemning racism, saying "What will it take? For one of us to be brutally murdered by the police?" They named numerous African Americans who were killed, that could've been them. The video concludes with all of them stating, "On behalf of the National Football League this is what we, the players would like to hear you state: We the National Football League condemn racism and the systematic oppression of black people. We the National Football League admit wrong in silencing our players from peacefully protesting. We the National Football League believe Black Lives Matter." www.instagram.com/p/CBN8b4Kn4S0/
As for baseball, Giancarlo Stanton tweeted a video which included him and other players such as Aaron Judge and Mookie Betts. They used #Players4BLM while vowing to make their voices louder toward creating change. Their message was, "We've been told that our peaceful pleas were not made at the right time, at the right place, in the right way. We've been told to 'wait.' But we remember when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. warned us that the word 'wait' has almost always meant never. We will wait no longer. We will make our voices louder for all of us who can and for all of those who could not." www.instagram.com/p/CBeefY6lNeu/
Former NBA player Stephen Jackson was a longtime friend of George Floyd. After hearing the news of his death, he flew to Minneapolis, where he's spoken at rallies about Floyd's story to bring attention to the police brutality that still occurs. Soon, he became an unforeseen spokesman for the family and the Black Lives Matter movement which has gained momentum around the world. He also gave a passionate speech on May 29 during a news conference at Minneapolis City Hall. At Floyd's funeral in Houston, he sat next to Floyd's daughter Gianna and later held her up on her shoulders at a rally. Jackson not only promises to take care of Gianna, but to bring justice for the family. His work earned lots of praise from many players, commissioner Adam Silver, former teammates, and coaches.
Despite the momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement, there is still controversy over some methods of protesting. Drew Brees said in an interview that he will never agree with anyone who kneels during the National Anthem. Many people such as James and even Brees's teammates spoke out against Brees. Even though Brees is well-liked within the football community, his comments show the lack of understanding he and many other Americans still have about racism. The responses from many fans and players who were upset by his comments shows the increase in their support toward protests against discrimination. Shortly after the interview, Brees issued an apology pledging to be an ally for the African-American community in fighting for racial equality and social justice.
This is the first time that athletes of all sports are using their social platform to create change. LeBron James recently created an initiative called More Than a Vote with the goal of standing up against racist voter suppression by educating, energizing, and protecting communities. Other athletes and entertainers have teamed up together to reach out to communities. Within one month, the organization has already identified major cities in key states in hopes of having an impact.
During this month, NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace spoke out against the Confederate flag, saying it was a symbol of hate, not heritage. He successfully used his platform as the the only full-time African American driver at the top level to call for Confederate flags to be banned at NASCAR events. His viewpoints have caused him to give up sponsorships, but he has always put his beliefs over money. Shortly after he took this stand, a rope was found in his garage which was thought to be a noose. After investigations, it turned out not to be a hate crime, but the support he received was encouraging. This included an emotional procession of other drivers following Wallace who was driving his car to the front of the pit road.
This is a unique time for our country. It's important that athletes contribute to society in other ways besides just playing sports. Those ways may be varied, but recently many have come together with the purpose of working toward racial equality. It's time for the rest of the world to not just approve the work that athletes are doing, but rather make our own effort to make a difference in some way.
Here are some links to organizations founded by and supported by athletes:
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