Off the Record: Athletes have a role in enacting social change

It took a while but athletes are starting to take a stand for social change.

It took nearly two decades with hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent lives being lost, but Michael Jordan finally abandoned his old adage, when confronted with addressing social change, of “Republicans buy sneakers too,” and stated, “I can no longer stay silent.”

Bravo, Mr. Jordan. People have been looking for this type of sentiment from what could be the greatest athlete of all time for a while now. Fortunately, during a time of racial division with a candidate running for president actively pushing to further divide the country, Jordan is not alone.

Two weeks ago, Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and Dwayne Wade all took to the stage at the ESPYs the sports version of the Oscars and urged their fellow athletes to become active on social issues like the Black Lives Matter movement that has caught worldwide attention after several black Americans unjustly lost their lives at the hands of law enforcement.

“Tonight, we’re honouring Muhammad Ali, the GOAT,” James said on stage. “But to do his legacy any justice, let’s use this moment as a call to action to all professional athletes to educate ourselves, explore these issues, speak up, use our influence and renounce all violence and, most importantly, go back to our communities, invest our time, our resources, help rebuild them, help strengthen them, help change them. We all have to do better.”

If you’re in tune with sports, you’ll notice that all of these athletes mentioned are basketball players in the NBA. Historically, this has always held true. It was the Los Angeles Clippers of the NBA who took a stand and ousted a racist owner from their franchise. It was the NBA who moved the 2017 All-Star Game away from Charlotte, North Carolina due to the state’s controversial law known as HB2, which has been widely criticized as discriminatory against the LGBT community.

Where was the MLB, NHL or NFL North America’s other biggest sporting leagues on issues like this?

Sure, you can make the argument that because there are statistically more black athletes in the NBA, it would make sense that they are the ones who stand for change. But where are the other leagues on other social issues such as domestic violence, mental health and, of course, the racially divisive Donald Trump? No matter the issue, they remain silent.

This also ignores the fact that this racial divide only exists because it’s white society that isn’t giving proper attention to the fact that black lives don’t currently matter in U.S. and North America at large. More than just black athletes, white athletes have a role in creating equality within society even if they aren’t directly affected. Can you imagine the weight of a statement similar to James’s made by a white athlete like Sidney Crosby, Tom Brady or Peyton Manning? Surely whites from across the continent would have to listen then.

This argument, however, sits on the underlying notion that athletes should be the ones to say something at all, which they should. The thing about professional athletes is that they’re being paid millions of dollars while being put on a pedestal that only few can relate to throughout the world. Although that fame and fortune comes out in the news in negative ways at times, it doesn’t have to.

Athletes can use that platform dovetailed with the weight their voice carries across society to create change. What writers, blue-collar workers and everyday citizens say rarely matters in the grand scheme of things. What athletes say can break across social media timelines and news headlines in efforts of defeating the status quo.

Athletes have a moral opportunity to improve our social problems. Whether or not they will is another story.

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