Timothy Belin, Campus Carrier sports editor
When athletes boycotted their games a few weeks ago to protest systemic racism in the United States, many were quick to condemn them, claiming sports should be politics-free. This has been a common thread throughout previous protests, such as the kneeling or the “I can’t breathe” shirts, with one Fox News pundit notably telling players to “shut up and dribble.” However, I think athletes were not only right to speak up, but should be encouraged to do so.
To start off, the idea that athletes cannot voice opinions on anything outside of sports is a ridiculous double-standard, because everyone and their uncle will gladly provide their opinion on an athlete’s performance without any background in the industry. If we applied the same rules to everyone, nobody but sports people could talk about sports and nobody but politicians could talk about politics, but as this is not the case, it seems that athletes are the only ones asked to shut up. The reasons for this are twofold, and neither one makes sense.
The first is that athletes are often considered less intelligent because their livelihood relies on physical attributes, but athletic ability and intelligence are in no way mutually exclusive. Most of these athletes spent at least one year in college before going pro, and anyone who actually paid attention to the boycott’s results would have seen that intelligence firsthand. This was not a bunch of players throwing a tantrum; it was an informed and organized group of men and women successfully promoting a well-reasoned platform for change, a feat even some political conventions appear to struggle with.
The second argument is that athletes are cut off from the real world because of their salaries. Once again, this is well off-base, as sports are by nature the ultimate level playing field. Sporting success depends almost entirely on one’s determination, attitude and hard work; who your parents are or where you are from have little to no influence on the outcome. Because of this, athletes are more likely than almost any other profession to come from a variety of backgrounds and be attuned to all sorts of real-world problems. Not only that, but they are usually well aware of their privilege and choose to give back to the communities that helped them. So for those who want to complain about people woefully out-of-touch with the struggles of everyday Americans, I would recommend complaining instead about the kind of person who was born so rich that they could cheat their way through college, dodge the military draft, go bankrupt six times and assault multiple women without ever facing any consequences.
But more important than any argument about the rights of athletes to speak up is the nature of the protests themselves. People are telling athletes to stay out of politics, but the fact that their demands are even considered political is a disgrace. They are not protesting about tax-cuts, social security, gerrymandering or gun control; they are protesting about basic human rights. The right not to be shot or killed by those meant to protect you. The right not to be discriminated against based on the color of your skin. The right to live free and feel safe in your own country.
Those complaining will often say that sports are the one place where they can forget real-world issues for a few hours, but that is in itself a sign of privilege. For too many people, ignoring these issues for any length of time is not an option, because they can quite literally mean life or death. I fully understand just how important sports are; I actually spent the past three years of college meticulously planning my schedule to avoid classes or activities conflicting with televised soccer matches, so you can trust me when I say that some things are, in fact, more important than sports. And because sports have that incredible ability, so rare in today’s climate, to truly unite people of any and all backgrounds and demographics, whether on the pitch or in the stands, not using that platform would be a waste. Too often nowadays people will not even consider a point of view if it comes from those they consider to be the opposition, but sports provide a unique opportunity to circumvent those barriers and reach out to those who may not usually listen, making it the perfect place to raise awareness of issues as pressing as that of systemic racism. So next time you think of criticizing athletes for taking a stand and speaking up for what they believe in, maybe just try to shut up and listen instead.