There is a misconception about the silence that emanates from modern day professional athletes, and the leagues that they play in, whenever a controversial issue is brought up. Often it is assumed that athletes do not voice their opinions simply because they have nothing to say.
The reality, however, is quite different: professional athletes do not speak up because, for them, the risk is greater than the reward. It used to be that professional athletes, men like Bill Russell, Muhammad Ali, and Jackie Robinson knew that they had the unique opportunity to enact social change and used their platforms as athletes to do so.
Unfortunately, that is no longer the case. We now live in a time when the most important thing to a professional athlete is building their brand and the only way to do that, the only way to attract corporate sponsors, is to follow the script that has been created by public relations experts and remain as uncontroversial as possible.
Which is why, when athletes do speak out on a controversial issue, as has been the case in recent weeks following Trayvon Martin’s killing in Florida, we tend to not only listen but praise them as well. What Carmelo Antony, Amare Stoudemire, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the entire Miami Heat team have done to raise awareness about this issue is beyond commendable.
It may seem like they are only taking pictures, tweeting words of encouragement and writing messages of support on their sneakers, but these small gestures are representative of something much bigger. They are representative of the fact that athletes have once again chosen to become active participants in a controversial conversation in America. The very involvement of household names like James and Wade, who have both spoken publicly about their opinions and why this was something that they felt they need to raise awareness of, will not only keep this investigation in the public conscious for weeks longer then it normally would be, but it helps to spread awareness to a broader spectrum of observers.
None of the things that these athletes have done were required or expected of them. It could be argued that their actions are alienating them from certain portions of their fan base, but they’ve found something they feel is important enough to stand up and fight for, and they are following through.
As self-indulgent and unaware as we believe modern day professional athletes to be, these men have chosen to draw attention to something bigger than themselves. They have made the decision to follow in the footsteps of those activist athletes who have come before them and are attempting to affect social change in their environment.
Hopefully, this trend will continue and not be a one-time thing, as athletes once again becoming social advocates for causes they believe in. It’s refreshing to see.