Athletes can be the change


Quin Norris, [email protected]

With the NFL getting underway last weekend we saw many players across the league take a knee in protest of social injustice and police brutality. The NFL now joins the NBA, MLB, MLS, NHL, WNBA, WMLS and various collegiate sports in allowing their players to protest with the Black Lives Matter movement if they so choose. 

While observing the present is important. We as sports fans should also realize that this movement is not a new scene in sports. In 2016 former San Francisco quarterback Colin Kappernick began taking a knee in the first week of the preseason that year and was quickly joined by players across the NFL. 

However, this protest quickly came under fire for being anti-military due to the players taking a knee during the national anthem. While players insist that the protest in no way had anything to do with the military and strictly was to protest police brutality this did not stop the misconception of the players actions. 

While visiting Huntsville, Ala. during his 2016 campaign trail Donald Trump said, “You have to stand proudly for the national anthem or you shouldn’t be playing, you shouldn’t be there, maybe you shouldn’t be in the country.” These harsh words became the viewpoint of a lot of people leading to a slight drop in viewership. The league then caved overtime when you saw fewer players kneeling each week. 

Despite this I ask, is this the appropriate outlook? I would argue that what those players were doing in 2016 was trying to bring awareness to a problem plaguing the country through one of the most patriotic acts any American can do by enacting their first amendment right. I would also argue that these men and women who put on jerseys every week hold an even higher obligation to speak out against oppression and mistreatment than even a regular citizen given their status as a public figure. 

Despite what I think should have been the public’s response to the movement in 2016 many people didn’t feel the same. A new opinion on athletes speaking out gained prominence on channels such as Fox News. Hosting her daily show The Ingraham Angle on Fox Laura Ingraham stated, in response to LeBron James and Kevin Durant speaking out against Donald Trump while he was on his campaign tour, “Keep the political comments to yourselves. … Shut up and dribble.” This line of thought is what drove the 2016 protest into the shadows as the league offices did not want ratings to trend downward and pulled the plug on the protest. 

However, things got worse for the players speaking out as Colin Kappernick, a starting level talent, was essentially black balled out of the league and is to this day still not filling a roster spot. 

So that seemed to be where the conversations were ending. From 2016 until 2020 we saw very few players and leagues take a stand and use their voices on a massive scale. Until, May 25 when a Minneapolis police officer needlessly murdered George Floyd while he was restrained by suffocating him with his knee. Quickly protests erupted all over the United States and continue to happen everyday

It is sad that Colin Kappernick and players across the NFL protested this very issue of police brutality and were silenced. If we as a nation would have listened to them then instead of insulting and discrediting them maybe George Floyd and many others would be here today. Which makes it fitting that sports naturally have responded in a big way. 

Every sports league and most colleges around the country are currently protesting at every game to bring awareness to a cause they find impactful. By peacefully coming together across all leagues to make one united voice the world of sports is helping lead the charge against police brutality and systemic racism. 

The movement in 2020 is a lot stronger this time around as players and coaches take a strong stance on issues and give emotional testimonies from their perspective. In an interview with Doc Rivers following a victory in the NBA playoffs Rivers gave one of the most impactful sentiments stating, “We’re the ones getting shot. We’re the ones that we’re denied to live in certain communities. We’ve been hung. We’ve been shot,” he continues, “It’s amazing why we keep loving this country, and this country does not love us back. It’s really so sad.” Other major NBA players such as Lebron James and Anthony Davis have spoken out on possible reform ideas. 

In 2020 leagues have found many other ways besides talking and kneeling to show their support as teams have used decals and patches on their jerseys, wore BLM shirts for warm up and decorate the courts, fields and stadiums in BLM themed messages. 

I highly stress to the readers that we should heed the warning this time. Respond to the call our athletes and fellow Americans are shouting. Now is not a time to discredit the voice of our fellow man but listen and celebrate their act of patriotism. Let us not write ourselves down on the wrong side of history again.