Athletes across the nation, professional and collegiate, are using their platform to spark social and political change. But since athlete social leaders gained massive publicity for their actions, many have joined in taking political stances, changing this noble wave of change to a fad of wanna-be protestors.
During his college football career from 2006 to 2010, Tim Tebow painted bible verses on his eye black to spread the gospel. In 2014, the Los Angeles Clippers removed their warmup jerseys to separate themselves from their scandalously racist owner at the time, Donald Sterling. This past summer at the ESPY’s, NBA stars Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James called for action against the racist and violent trends of 2016. Each example represents a conscious and honest effort to call attention to socioeconomic disparities and start meaningful dialogue.
I applaud each athlete and his mission to bring change. Each demonstration has good intentions behind it. Unfortunately, out of these acts comes a group of athletes who discredit all other movements because of their poor execution or lack of knowledge when trying to bring about social change.
If an athlete is following the lead of other protestors but not exercising their right to vote, they are simply adding to the societal tensions between people in a divided nation. This country does not need more separation or hatred. Taking a stand just to get some screen time or so you can say you were a part of a greater mission only creates more division.
NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick started a movement this fall to kneel during the national anthem in hopes of starting a conversation about systemic racial issues between communities of color and police departments across America. Kaepernick is not wrong in saying that some police officers hold racial biases. But he contradicted his argument by deciding not to vote on election day. Asking for social change but not taking part in the political process detracts from the movement.
Kaepernick believed that to vote would be to support a government oppressive against minorities. But by refusing to vote, he turned down the opportunity to use his greatest asset in bringing needed change. After taking such a hard stance on a prevalent issue and promoting change to the press for weeks, Kaepernick undermined his credibility by not fulfilling his civic duty. His actions show how poor demonstration from athletes can patronize the causes for which they stand — or kneel.
Taking a stand and using one’s First Amendment right is an honorable thing to do. Without persistence, many causes are remembered as another part of the athletes-want-social-justice fad. Even if justified, these arguments become invalidated, and the change they seek is, if anything, further away.
I’m not saying you should shut up and say nothing. Taking a stance and wanting progress is honorable, but like in any sport, it is important to stay diligent, work hard and continue to fight when it gets tough. That’s when true character shows, and the real change begins.
Brendan Galbreath is an undeclared first-year. He can be reached at email@example.com.