To clarify, I am not here to talk about Colin Kaepernick. Everyone has said everything there is to be said about kneeling as well as the movement started by the controversial quarterback. #IsKaepernickElite?
But the right to kneel has lent itself to another issue: is it acceptable for professional athletes to use their platform to affect politics?
One side preaches the separation between politics and sport, citing the need of sports to be a unifying body that allows for an escape from the seemingly persistent, unpleasant political and social climate that we experience today.
On the other hand, some praise athletes’ will to step up and show support for their own social and political beliefs, justifying said action with claims of free speech rights along with the benefits of athletes using their self-made influence to promote, in their eyes, positive change.
However polarizing this issue has become, I think it boils down to one thing: the rights of free speech most definitely extend to the realm of professional sports.
Not every athlete is an accomplished politician or social scholar, but we forget the diversity and communication that is inherent within sports and the locker room. Each team is filled with players from all across the world, and the socio-economic spectrum, each with their own unique circumstances and stories they have experienced.
Every professional athlete has gritted and grinded to be one of the best in their respective sport. Who are we to say these people do not have the right to express their own political and social views with the platform they have worked so hard to attain.
During a time of frustration with a broken political system filled with out-of-touch politicians, the fact that we don’t appreciate the diverse, proprietary, and tangible political and social influence these athletes can bring to the table, is beyond me.
It is not a hot take when I say that athletes have grown to have unprecedented influence on culture, especially among our youth. Every player that voices their beliefs may not have attended a top-tier university or be a political science and sociology wiz, but why must that be the standard for one to have attained before we allow them to express what they believe?
The truth of the matter is that everybody gets a voice — dumb or smart, black or white, athlete or not — and it is the purpose of the liberties granted by our democracy that allow all to be heard. It should be the responsibility of the consumers of sports to be able to freely evaluate and analyze the messages presented by athletes and then come to their own educated and independent opinions.
“The fact that we don’t appreciate the diverse, proprietary, and tangible political and social influence these athletes can bring to the table, is beyond me.”
The rights of free speech should not be excluded from the professional sports industry. Fans’ desire to keep professional athletes separate from politics is ignorant, and frankly unpatriotic. At the end of the day, athlete or not, they are allowed to voice their views; it is democracy in its simplest form.
Whether it’s coming together to play as a team or coming together to address the problems that this country is currently faced with, let’s not forget the beauty of sports and how it brings us together.