If Athletes Are Condemned For Speaking Out, Who’s Next?

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Muhammad Ali. Jesse Owens. Arthur Ashe. Tommie Smith. John Carlos. Bill Russell. Billie Jean King. Carlos Delgado.

These are just some of the many athletes not named Colin Kaepernick who decided to make political statements during their careers met with criticism and praise.

As the United States becomes more and more divided, it’s not surprising that athletes’ recent leap into the political arena has been met with anger and backlash. Unless, of course, the statements being made are in alignment with someone’s own political persuasion.

Just as it’s mostly biased viewers that level criticism against media, it’s also true that criticism of athletes tends to come from those who disagree with their particular positions or causes.

“I totally agree with my favorite basketball player, even though he’s an athlete and shouldn’t be speaking about it,” said no person ever.

Isn’t it a little bit arrogant for some members of society to suggest that other members of society should not speak up on issues that are personal and concerning to them?

Or, as a prominent opinion show host once told LeBron James, “Shut up and dribble.”


Since when do people in this nation get to decide who gets to participate and who doesn’t? And since when should anyone’s financial status – including athletes’ – be a determinant of whether someone can or should participate in the political process?

If that’s true, then perhaps more vitriol should be directed at people like Jeff Bezos and Jamie Dimon. Should the same standard have been held to Donald Trump before he was a serious threat for political office?

Just shut up and sell condos?

Of course not.

It is also worth noting that sometimes athletes are criticized for NOT engaging in politics. Take Michael Jordan, who was often called out for not speaking up on social issues because many believed his stature and platform could have led to social change.

Jordan did become more involved politically in later years. In 2016, as police brutality and equality issues surfaced again, Jordan said something particularly poignant.

“I can no longer stay silent,” Jordan said. “We need to find solutions that ensure people of color receive fair and equal treatment AND that police officers are respected and supported.”

What an obvious, yet brilliant concept. Too bad we can’t pay any attention to it, you know, because the guy could dunk.

Whether anyone agrees or disagrees with a particular athlete is not the issue. Athletes have opinions all across the political spectrum. But to suggest they – or any other segment of society – should be silent on issues that matter to them flies in the face of any open society and the foundation of this nation.

Everyone should agree that if lobbyists on K Street can use their platforms and resources to shape public policy, then surely we can all agree everyone – including athletes – should be welcomed to contribute to America’s political tapestry.

In other words, there are no restrictions and no prerequisites for participating in the Great American Experiment. Politics and sports have always gone hand in hand and they will continue to do so. Jackie Robinson anyone?

Most importantly, the public should be careful not to suggest that any group of people remain silent and be criticized for engaging on their issues of concern.

After all, who would want to be in such a group, and who’s next?

Copyright 2020 Rick Greene. Greene is an award-winning columnist and editorial writer, and the editor and publisher of Southern Ohio Today. Green can be reached at [email protected]