I’ll be honest, for the past couple of years, my opinions on this matter have changed depending on who I talked to. Honestly, I have been scared to firmly voice this opinion, but as I’ve grown from a teenager into a young man it has become clear to me that I cannot deny how I truly feel about this. I’ve been intimidated by certain groups of people to believe that sports and politics should strictly be separate from each other. I’ve been scared that I would lose friends who disagreed with this opinion, and going through the tough times I have gone through I simply couldn’t afford to lose those people. I’ve lied to myself thinking that professional athletes shouldn’t be voicing their opinions against things like police brutality, racism, white privilege, illegal immigration, and our own political leaders. Lastly, I’ve also lied to myself thinking that young people like myself and many of those athletes don’t have a voice that matters. These are all things I did or allowed, to stifle the belief that professional athletes should voice their opinions on politics and social problems.
Being a professional athlete is a hard enough job. As a Physical Education and Coaching major I’ve seen many stats about the number of high school athletes who end up going pro. According to the NCAA, the percentage of male high school athletes who will play at the college division 1 level is less than 7%. The probability a female high school athlete will play at the division one level is slightly higher, but not by much. Either way, it doesn’t matter because only the top 1 or 2 percent of all college athletes will get the chance to play the sport they love professionally. It’s also worth considering that elite athletes from overseas come to play sports professionally as well. The point is the chances of playing a sport professionally in America are extremely low. The chances of playing that sport at a high enough level, for a long enough period of time to garner significant influence, are even lower.
The facts speak for themselves. There are few other jobs that are as difficult to obtain than being a professional athlete if there are any. To become a professional athlete you have to first have a high athletic ceiling, a good natural build to work with (I’m talking about height and weight mostly), and then athleticism that either matches or tops the athleticism of the top 1% of human beings in the world. If you’re somebody like me who topped out at 5-8 and isn’t naturally fast (which you obviously can’t teach) then the probability of myself going pro drops extremely, and those are only the deciding factors that involve yourself. Then there are factors that indirectly involve you that athletes need on their side if they even want a chance to go pro. Factors such as the right people seeing them play at the right times, having good coaches, having the time to master their craft, and having a good support group. All professional athletes have had to work extremely hard usually from a very young age to get to where they are. It’s one of the few professions where it takes at least 10 years of prior experience just to be able to get paid to do it.
So when people act like these athletes are somehow spoiled because they are making millions now, it bothers me that they overlook all these odds/facts that they had to overcome to get to where they are. Opportunities to become a professional athlete are rare, and the majority of people won’t even have that opportunity become an option. So why should a professional athlete not be allowed to speak their mind? They’ve worked harder than the majority of the population has by their age in terms of hours invested into their craft, but yet people expect them to just “shut up and dribble”. As if they don’t have the right to speak out just because they chose an easy profession like being a professional athlete. People want to buy into the whole dumb jock stereotype so bad for these professional athletes, yet they forget that these athletes were somehow competent enough to be some of the greatest in the world at their profession by 21. I could tell you right now that Donald Trump and Barack Obama were considered far from being some of the greatest in the world at their profession by the age of 21. If you look at the youngest Fortune 500 CEOs Mark Zuckerberg is the youngest at 32. To achieve something of that magnitude is extremely improbable. It’s almost not realistic at all, yet these professional athletes did it. Just because they’re a professional athlete doesn’t mean they are any less smart or competent to comment on politics and social issues.
I’m not saying these athletes should speak out solely because they were able to become a professional athlete, but respect is in order for them at the very least. Don’t act like what they achieved was insignificant. Sure being a professional athlete may not contribute the most to society, but that doesn’t mean they should be discredited for being one. Most professional athletes have worked harder than most people, so who are we to judge? I believe that if anybody worked this hard to even remotely give them the opportunity to influence millions, then why should they stay silent?
As a current coach and former student-athlete, I learned that the brighter the spotlight the higher the expectations. As a former student-athlete, I was taught that a community will look at you to represent them on and off the field. On the field, you as the athlete bear the name of your community and you’re obviously expected to represent that community the best you can. Off the field/court, people will recognize you and you’ll be more recognizable than the average person because of the time you spent representing your community on the field/court. Since that’s the case, the expectation is to make good choices and continue to represent your community off the field since the athlete made that choice to be a representative of the community. If the athlete doesn’t do that, then the athlete’s bad choices will be magnified because they’re more recognizable. In addition, whatever choices an athlete may make may influence younger aspiring athletes who look up to that athlete. A string of good choices or bad choices can either positively or negatively affect a whole new group of players who will go on to influence athletes after them, and so on. As a current coach I’m held to a much higher standard, but same standards as a representative of my community. We all have a responsibility to be a positive influence on our community, but it’s the people who represent the community (through anything) that will carry the most responsibility and influence.
So say an athlete learns all of those things, and then when they finally get to the professional level they’re told that same thing but don’t talk about touchy issues for the sake of ratings. How shallow of an excuse is that? These athletes are supposed to represent their community, yet they’re told that they shouldn’t solve or call out any problems in their community. What kind of message is this sending to young athletes who are constantly told that they need to represent and contribute to their community?
In addition, how can somebody strip somebody of their beliefs and opinions, for the sake of pleasing a portion of your customers? (cough cough NFL cough cough) Last I checked, in all those stats about the probability of an athlete to go pro, the number of fans who love an athlete personally never came up to be a factor in helping that athlete go pro. Sure those fans make money for those professional sports franchises, but fans are more replaceable than athletes.
Specifically, the NFL has always had problems with letting people voice any views. Out of all the professional sports leagues, they’re easily one of the more ignorant and least progressive leagues in the world. Tim Tebow, for example, was somebody who was very devoted to his Christian faith. Yet I remembered a lot of teams were hesitant on bringing him in, because of “the distraction” it brings. Except for players who have past criminal records, gang ties, and more have been drafted by the same teams that cut or let go of Tim Tebow. I’m looking directly at you, New England Patriots. An argument could be made that Tebow just wasn’t talented enough to make it in the NFL, but there is no other quarterback in league history who won a playoff game under the age of 30 and never started another NFL game. I’m sure Tebow wasn’t talented enough, and it had nothing to do with conservative views or the fact that he showed in multiple pro-life commercials in Super Bowl 44.
Then on the other side, there is Colin Kaepernick. His worse season was in 2015 where he was injured for about half the season missing 7 games. In the games he did play in he was obviously struggling with a shoulder tear. In his last season with the 49ers, he would only play 12 games but still throw for 16 touchdowns, 2,241 yards, and only 4 interceptions. He also rushed for 468 yards and 2 touchdowns. He has not played in the league since then despite not having injury concerns, age concerns, criminal record concerns, or attitude problems. That’s the NFL’s modern-day version of discrimination at its finest.
I understand of course barring certain actions/speech on the grounds of being offensive and socially insensitive, but we are talking about the freedom to talk about real social problems and politics. It annoys me that people consider the opposite beliefs of their own as offensive enough to silence. Maybe if the American population could stop trying to silence each other, then maybe a permanent positive change could actually happen. Regardless of the side the of the political spectrum an opinion may be from, why should an opinion be silenced for the sole reason that it doesn’t line up with the opinions of people from the other side of the political spectrum? Or is that just the excuse people hide behind when they don’t want to get active and go make a difference in their community. People would rather argue with each other about views, then actually do something.
Speaking out on social injustice is important for people from all walks of life, regardless of profession. Athletes gain that responsibility to not only represent the communities they play for, but the responsibility to represent themselves when they become professionals. That’s a luxury anyone can earn when they become the top 5 % of their profession in the world. That responsibility to represent themselves on that scale comes with the power to influence at the very least thousands of people.
People want to get mad about athletes, such as LeBron James, for speaking against candidates or political leaders. Except they ignore the fact that if they had his influence and power, it’d be difficult to stay neutral in matters that affect your community. Although this may be true, people would still rather have athletes like LeBron just “shut up and dribble”. I wonder if they would be saying that if they voiced support for those same political leaders instead of criticism.
Like I said before athletes represent their communities. Most want to give back to a community, and that is usually done by advocating against problems, to begin with. After advocating, a lot of athletes do their part to be a catalyst in an effort to change things. It can be argued that these same athletes who advocate against certain problems make change faster and more efficiently than leaders and politicians whose job is to solve these things. LeBron created his own foundation that spent $41 million at one point to send at-risk students to college for all 4 years.
Colin Kaepernick, somebody NFL fans simply love to hate, donated a total of $1 million in 10 months. His donations also inspired many other celebrities such as Alicia Keys and athletes such as Steph Curry to make donations as well. Keep in mind during the time he made his donations, he earned a salary of about $11.9 million that year. That’s roughly a 1/12th of his total earnings that year. It may not seem a lot, but if somebody was to give 1/12th of a $50,000 per year income it comes out to about $4,166. The average American gives 2.6% of their earnings to charity every year, which is $1,300 if one were to receive a salary of $50,000 a year. Sure there’s a difference between making millions, and thousands but just consider those facts before calling athletes out for “not contributing to society”. Maybe before judging athletes for not doing anything, judge yourself first.
Professional sports on the surface at the end of the day are just high stake games that entertain people. Professional athletes, on the other hand, aren’t just participants or pieces in that game. They’re human beings who have the God-given ability to be independent and think for themselves. Athletes give sports the human factor that makes it so entertaining. Athletes aren’t just entertainers with no rights, they’re humans who deserve the right to speak out on whatever they desire.
The occupation of anybody shouldn’t stop somebody from voicing their opinions on social problems or politics. An occupation shouldn’t stop anybody from going out and making a difference either. A hard-working janitor has all the same rights to voice an opinion as a professional athlete. Their sphere of influence may be smaller than a professional athlete’s sphere, but that doesn’t change the fact that it still exists. Everyone has a sphere of influence no matter the size, but a lot of people would rather shut down somebody’s freedom of speech instead of actually getting active and speaking for themselves. Professional athletes work harder than the average human, but yet they are supposed to be silenced? I believe that hard work will get you anywhere, and I believe that if you work hard enough there are certain benefits you should reap. Professional athletes deserve to have the power to change lives, and most do positively. No matter how much fans want to deny this fact, sports will always be about the athletes.
It disgusts me when people act like the world is only influenced by people who have a lot of money and influence, and so think it’s okay to neglect problems they encounter. Then they turn around to bash an athlete who is actually doing something. This “woe is me” mindset is easily the most annoying mindset of any sports fan. I understand disagreeing with a professional athlete’s point of view on certain matters, but advocating to silence them is ridiculous. How about instead of silencing people who are actually making a change, you go out and make a difference. Or at the very least, don’t be a bandwagoner who hates on a team for speaking out, but when they make the playoffs jump right back on to that same team. I’m looking directly at Steelers fans specifically on that one. Instead, do us all a favor and stop watching sports permanently if you can’t handle these realities.
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