Editorial: The modern athlete is finally choosing to speak out and we should listen

NOTE: The views expressed in this EDITORIAL do not necessarily reflect the views of Detroit Sports Nation or a majority of its writers and should not be misconstrued as such. The views contained within are the views of the author and the author alone.


There has been a shift in the world of sports that has been slowly building for some time. Colin Kaepernick started and continues to feed, the conversation surrounding professional athletes and their newly found outspoken attitudes about social issues. For the longest time, athletes generally kept to themselves, not really mentioning any current events unless it was something outstanding or noteworthy that simply couldn't be ignored.

After last weekend's events in Charlottesville, Virginia, that attitude has changed in force. Athletes from LeBron James, Michael Bennett, Kevin Durant, and Marshawn Lynch to name a few, have spoken out against a myriad of subjects that have come up in the past week.

What is much more interesting, however, is the response by the fans who watch these athletes. Despite the fact that athletes have spoken out against the cultural norm for years, the current crop of players and their actions seem to have rubbed fans the wrong way. This no more evident than the response that Metro-Detroiters have shown on “The Valenti Show” on 97.1 the Ticket. Valenti and his crew have been pushing content on the current events in sports that have ranged from Michael Bennett's ongoing protests, LeBron James calling out the “President” of the United States, to Colin Kaepernick's effect on this current trend. Many reactions, specifically on the “Ticket Text”, have shown just how uncomfortable many sports fans are with this new trend.


Staying in their “Lane”

For all of those who wish for athletes to “stick to sports” or who criticized ESPN for turning “too political”, we have to understand that times have changed. The current social and political world is more divisive than it has ever been. Back in the day, the 1960s had very similar issues from the ongoing Cold War, the Vietnam War, Civil Rights, and the Hippie movement. We had numerous celebrities including athletes speaking out at that time as well. Athletes have a platform to speak on issues they feel strongly about. Far more than you or myself, their words and actions speak volumes and can bring attention to major issues that athletes feel are affecting them.

We also cannot forget that the majority of athletes in this country are minorities who have legitimate gripes with modern society that many white individuals simply won't understand. To tell anyone to sit down, shut up, and do your job seems to be blindly ignorant of the plight that the current social and political environment has bred for those individuals. It is no coincidence that in 2017, after years of racial tension, political unrest, and the constant threat of uprise and violence, that athletes finally stick up for what they feel is right. We as fans should be able to understand their right. Muhammed Ali did so back during his time by fighting against the Vietnam War and racial inequality, as did Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City.

Even professional teams like the Tampa Bay professional clubs and the Boston Red Sox have started social activism toward ridding their respective cities of symbols of racial tension and historical racism. The athletes are speaking up, and so to are the organizations that employ them.

Social protest in sports isn't new

One last history lesson for anyone thinking that sports and politics do not and should not intertwine. In 1980, the United States led a 62-country strong protest against the Summer Games that were being held in Moscow, Russia. This decision to boycott was in retaliation for the Soviet Union invading Afghanistan in 1979 and was enacted by the United States government. For years, especially during the Cold War, sports were used as an empowering tool for both sides to make statements, actions, and protests against the other.

As the late, great Nelson Mandela once said about the power of sport:

“Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.”