The Roles of Athletes in the Quest for Social Reform

The 2020 season in professional sport has been rocked with massive involvement in social issues. This season we witnessed players taking a knee during the national anthem to protest systematic racism, police brutality, racial inequality and writing messages to advocate for social reforms at the back of their jerseys. Following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and a couple of other recorded cases, people took to the streets to protest these incidents under the mantra #BlackLivesMatter and the athletes were not left out.
However, activism in sports has been an age-long practice. In 1968, Tommie Smith and John Carlos were booed off the podium for protesting against racism before being expelled from the Olympics. Also, Colin Kaepernick was sent out of the NFL in 2016 for taking a knee during the national anthem to protest racial injustice. In 1996, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauof refused to stand up for the national anthem before the basketball game. Therefore, athletes will continue to use their platforms and brands to highlight social issues.
The recent anti-racism protests have buttressed the fact that sports and social issues cannot be separated. A couple of weeks ago, the NBA players boycotted the playoffs games to advocate against the shooting of Jacob Blake. Also, the MLB game between the Mets and Marlins was boycotted after observing a 42 seconds silence with nothing but a Black Lives Matter Shirt on the field. Upon resumption of the games, a consensus was reached with the players that the league will show constant support to join in the advocacy for social reforms by establishing a social justice coalition featuring representatives from players, coaches and governors, converting team arenas into voting locations for the upcoming elections, to mention but a few.
Popular players have taken actions to combat these issues in different ways. For instance, Marcus Rashford used the coronavirus hiatus to enforce the British government to continue providing free meals for vulnerable children. German Footballer, Mesut Ozil, spoke against the persecution of the Uighurs in China. The fight against gender difference in sport is an issue that is being tackled. Recently, the Brazilian Football Federation stated that they are now paying the women’s team same as the men’s team.
It is only right to see athletes as fellow human beings with the right to freedom of expression. According to Douglas Hartmann, professor and chair of sociology at the University of Minnesota, “athletes are humans like the rest of us, and they have the right to speak out like the rest of us”.

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