Four years after Collin Kaepernick was blacklisted by the world for his stance against racial injustice, the sports world is now surrounded by similar players — but this time, they’re national heroes. The most recent spiral of abominable crimes involving the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Jacob Blake has reignited the fire that Kaepernick started. The NBA, NFL, MLB, and NHL have all been actively supporting the Black Lives Matter movement since the revamp of their seasons.
Professional athletes across all platforms have found themselves in a new and unusual spotlight. With the whole world celebrating the little victories in this time of quarantine and desperation for entertainment, the sports channels have been hot with attention, but shockingly for different reasons.
Some of the first teams to kneel for the anthem, as Kaepernick did during the 2016 season, began with the New Orleans Pelicans and Utah Jazz in the NBA, and the Houston Texans in the NFL. Once these protests started to engulf the media’s focus on sports, sports fans are finding it harder and harder to focus on anything else. Now teams are taking it one step further, sitting in the locker rooms during the National Anthem; the Texans are even playing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” alongside the National Anthem.
The shooting of Jacob Blake on Aug. 23 2020, pushed these athletes beyond their capacity to “shut up and dribble,” as Lebron James was instructed to do back in 2018. His murder ignited a series of walkouts across several leagues.
“Are we not human beings?” said Jaylen Brown of the Boston Celtics, “Is Jacob Blake not a human being? He deserved to be treated like a human being and did not deserve to be shot.”
At this point, no one would put it past James to take to Twitter for an explicit message to President Donald Trump: “WE DEMAND CHANGE. SICK OF IT.” These players are leaders, and now, a younger generation of athletes are using their voices to shape the change they wish to see in America, and it’s working.
Talking to NBA players across the league, a sociologist famous for his study in the 1967 Olympics, Harry Edwards said, “You’re not involved in a boycott against basketball. You’re involved in utilizing and leveraging the spotlight, the platform you have to make it crystal clear, not just to make a statement of protest but to send a message demanding change concerning these shootings.”
The people are talking more and more about these protests, and with every day it seems like BLM is growing. It isn’t being treated like a trend; people won’t stop talking about it and it won’t stop until real change is implemented.
On a local level, some of the athletes at Grand Valley State University are feeling inspired and empowered by the actions of these celebrity figures. Junior football defensive back Antonio Strong believes the football team would be participating in these protests at GVSU.
“If we were playing we’d most definitely take part in some type of action or some type of protest as a team,” Strong said. “People are actually getting to learn things now and they’re bringing awareness to voting; there’s just a lot of good changes going on in sports.”
Hearing childhood idols speak out about these changes is motivating. Having more and more professional athletes participate in these protests is spreading the word and educating people at a larger scale than it ever has before, especially four years ago. Not only is it spreading awareness, but it is focusing people’s attention to the BLM movement in a much more serious tone.
“They’re on one of the biggest platforms in the world, like Lebron James for example,” Strong said. “He’s the biggest NBA athlete in the world, so for him to speak up and bring awareness to the situation, a lot of people are going to follow in his actions and whatever he says and they’re going to be become more aware and start learning the actual process of these things.”
The hurt the country is facing doesn’t end with a hashtag and a tweet – it ends with political turmoil and immediate action. Athletes with such a great influence on young kids have been pushing for voting with initiatives to rent out theaters and venues for registration, as well as access to political information.
There are also numerous members of the local GVSU community helping students register to vote. There is a beauty in the idea of democracy, but it all depends on who wants to utilize their right to a choice in the leadership of the country. The issue that lies within this predicament is that a country that doesn’t support all of its constituents is not going to benefit from the democratic future the writers of the constitution had envisioned.
“It’s amazing to me why we keep loving this country and this country does not love us back,” said Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers.
For now, protests for the BLM movement will continue, but the hope is that this isn’t a lasting matter. As people sit here, reading articles and watching the news, it we must remember that nothing is achieved doing this. Use the pathways these athletes and celebrities across all walks of life are creating for those with less of a voice, and do the things that make a difference. The best way to create change is starting as small as possible, and eventually toppling the structure of systematic racism and dirty politics that those in power have spent so long building.
As the New York Mets player Dominic Smith said in an interview with the Washington Post, “We showed tonight we’re not just going to shut up and dribble, shut up and play ball. We stand up for what we believe in.”