Head-to-Head: Should athletes use their platforms for political commentary?

October 29, 2020

Pro athletes boycotting games creates change

With professional sports back in action, the buzz of fans rooting for their favorite football team slowly drowns out the chants of “No justice, no peace!” As our heads turn to focus on the basketball and baseball playoffs nearing closer, we muffle the noise that’s been building up this entire summer ever since the murder of George Floyd. Because of this, many professional athletes decided to take a stand in solidarity on August 26, 2020, to declare that the world of sports should no longer take away and be separate from the world of politics.

When Wisconsin resident Jacob Blake was shot seven times in the back by police officer Rusten Sheskey, many teams and players across the nation responded to the police brutality by boycotting their games. It started with the Milwaukee Bucks, whose players did not take the court against the Orlando Magic on the 26th. (The Bucks’ statement can be found here.) Others followed in their footsteps: the NBA announced Game 5 of three different playoff series would be postponed, three WNBA and Major League Baseball games were scratched, and five Major League Soccer games were called off.

These boycotts reignited a fire in the fight for racial equality. By putting a halt on the massive industry of sports entertainment, even for a day, it makes it impossible to ignore the state of our country. Professional athletes who are idolized by millions had made the decision to put the discussion of human rights before their jobs. As a public figure, when human lives are at stake, your profession comes second in priority – doing what is right comes first. Because these players have such large followings,  it is their duty to make a public stance on the right side of history, even if that means walking away from their job. Their actions create extremely meaningful discussions and become great examples for the people that follow them, especially those who may not have taken a stance on the issue up to this point. When these athletes with immense influence use their platforms to advocate for change, they become pioneers in the social movement for racial equality.

As average Americans, when our “normal” becomes disrupted in such a way, we are forced to open our eyes and consider the reality of the situation. Although the Black Lives Matter movement may not affect me individually (as a privileged person in a safe community), I’m faced with the truth that police brutality and white privilege can and do impact my favorite sports players, artists, actors, etc., in ways I could never imagine. In this country, pro athletes are worshiped by kids and adults alike, and what they do greatly impacts us and society. America would not be what it is today without black culture.

While officials in power have failed to act, athletes of all colors across the nation used their voices and rallied together to make noise and draw attention to the injustices in our country. The boycotts amplified black voices, and compelled all of us to listen to their cries for equality. Change cannot be made without bold, powerful acts of solidarity that disrupt our everyday routines.

We should not be able to enjoy basketball games if the players (and millions of other Americans) cannot enjoy basic human rights. If you felt angry that your sports were cancelled for one day, think about how black Americans feel having to face racism every day.

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Professional athletes, amateur activists

The National Basketball Association (NBA) has jumped through countless hoops in an effort to finish the 2019-2020 season successfully. Spending an estimated $150 million on the NBA Bubble as well as ensuring all 814 active players and staff members remain COVID-19 symptom-free, they have made many sacrifices to get where they are now. The league has done too much to have it all thrown away due to a protest, which has nothing to do with basketball in the first place.

29-year-old African American Jacob Blake was gruesomely assaulted by police officers in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The Black community as well as many Americans were enraged after hearing Blake was brutally shot in the back seven times. On Wednesday, August 26, the Milwaukee Bucks decided not to take the floor for their scheduled playoff game against the Orlando Magic, and the rest of the league followed suit. All games have been postponed for the time being.

In addition to the NBA, the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) has also started a boycott of their season. Various NFL teams have suspended practices, and the New York Giants have even begun discussing a plan to not participate in a regular season game in an act of protest.

While these athletes should voice their opinions, they should also be doing their jobs.

The average NBA player is compensated $7.7 million every season to play basketball.  Millions of fans tune in to watch games everyday. Bringing social justice issues into the NBA has actually hurt their ratings.

As soon as the NBA allowed players to sport empowerment phrases on the back of their jerseys and plastered “Black Lives Matter” across center court, their ratings declined 4%. People watch basketball because they love the game. There is no reason to mix the NBA and social justice issues, they have only hurt themselves.

Our nation has been suffering from racial influenced issues for the past 400 years. These athletes have genuinely good and powerful intentions when they protest social injustice during their games, however that is not the right platform. These players can do effective things for the Black Lives Matter movement, but taking a knee and sporting an empowering phrase on their backs are not going to get much done.

Athletes have some of the highest influence over our generation via their social media platforms. Here, these men and women voice their opinions, and can advertise for events, such as racial inequality protests. 

Athletes inspire many people across the world. They should most definitely use their power to stand up for what they believe in and speak out, but that time is not while they are competing. Sports are supposed to bring Americans together as we cheer on our teams, let’s not ruin that with the negatives of the outside world.

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