For decades, professional athletes stepped beyond the field and used their platform to create change. After several years of athletes being fairly quiet on social issues, 2016 has brought a wave of change.
It started in July with a speech at the ESPYs, ESPN’s sports award show, when New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony was joined by Chicago Bulls guard Dwyane Wade, Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James and Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul.
The four athletes, all African-American, urged their peers across sports to speak out on social issues and help give a voice to those who don’t have one. They stood on the stage with a message of uniting communities, following in the footsteps of athletes who used their powerful voice for the same reasons in the past.
Then just over a month later, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick provided the loudest voice by kneeling during the national anthem to bring attention and give a voice for those who are being oppressed. It created a wave of reaction, both positive and negative, that has shaped the sports world since.
While many have been moved by Kaepernick’s message, with athletes across all sports from the professional level to high school following in his footsteps, people have also met his action with hatred and anger.
When others saw Kaepernick kneel during the national anthem, they viewed it as being anti-military, anti-American and anti-law enforcement.
New York Representative Lee Zeldin (R-NY), an Army veteran, tweeted “Kaepernick should think about the service members risking their lives to protect his freedom to be both rich and unpatriotic in NFL.”
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump encouraged Kaepernick and others players who speak out to leave the country, when he said. “I think it’s a great lack of respect and appreciation for our country and I really said they should try another country, see if they like it better,” according to Fox.
The vitriol towards Kaepernick was also found in the front offices of NFL teams. Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman spoke to anonymous team executives, whose comments ranged from “I don’t want him anywhere near my team. He’s a traitor,” to “He has no respect for our country, f––k that guy,” according to Bleacher Report.
People who are so stuck in their ways with a singular point of view and righteous jingoism, who spew hatred to anyone hoping to bring change to the old way of life.
This is where the issue exists. The real problem with this country is people like Trump, Zeldin, the anonymous executives and ignorant fans.
They are also the same people who thump their chests proudly for symbolicpatriotism during the national anthem, but don’t donate their time or money to organizations that support veterans coming home.
The large audience and status these players have gives them a greater voice, a way to make others aware of issues facing minorities, who don’t normally have a strong voice in the media.
They’re using their platform to try and improve communities, make this country better and law enforcement better, which is exactly what this country needs.
Meanwhile, Trump, Zeldin and other critics spend their time flag-waving and criticizing athletes who try to make a difference and make this world a better place.