I’ve given it a couple weeks to sit. Sometimes I like to just let ideas stew – mix, absorb, penetrate, and reform again as something more holistic and refined. I’ve wanted to comment, to jump in, to make a point, but I don’t think I was ready.
A few week ago, Colin Kaepernick started gaining attention for his protest demonstration during the national anthem at an NFL game. The story has continued to progress with more athletes joining in the protest and in turn more responses and opinions shared on national and international media. Interestingly, Megan Rapione’s attempt to kneel in solidarity with Kaepernick was thwarted by the Washington Spirit ownership. Another demonstration of power structures determining which voices can be heard?
I don’t want to dig into the politics of it all, but as a sports fan, I want to point out the immense power that professional and collegiate athletes have. They have the power to change the conversation, to call attention to issues that we should all be concerned with, to share their voice and the voices of so many like them.
Whether we agree with their methods or not, we must at least recognize that athletes, like all of us, are whole people. They can’t and shouldn’t shed parts of themselves when they step into their role as athlete. While the professional atheletics system operates in a way that positions athletes as commodities, as “stock” to be traded, developed, bought and sold, they are actually living, breathing humans. They are people with real lives and real experiences both on and off the playing field.
As we’ve pointed out many times in this blog, you can’t understand someone else’s point of view, perspective or version of reality until or unless you have walked in their shoes. Until you have experienced life as they experience it – day in and day out. That goes for everyone, including our military – many of whom have taken offense to the anthem protest, and our professional athletes – many of whom have been on the front lines of race relations and issues in their own communities.
My thoughts might still be disconnected and confused regarding this issue. But, in the end I believe in freedom of speech – the right to a voice and the power that comes with a collective voice. I believe in using the platforms available to you to project your voice. To fight for the things you believe in. We all should. If we don’t, we are seriously undermining the values upon which our United States government was formed.
So, If I was to encourage anything in those who are reading, it would be to encourage others. Support athletes like Kaerpernick, Rapinoe, and J.T. Brown in their quest to open dialogue and have honest and true responses to controversial issues. They are not, as athletes, commodities with a single purpose. They are people, with experiences, perspectives, and knowledge that can reach so many and hopefully influence others along the way.
As a Bulldog alum and former Bulldog athlete, I want to end with a shout out to J.T. Brown. He used his voice to bring perspective to a controversial stance by the coach of the USA Hockey at the World Cup, John Tortorella. Brown’s approach and ability to articulate the idea of perspective was powerful and spot on and quite frankly probably something few in that particular audience (hockey) had considered before. His willingness to speak-up, to use the platform he has as a professional athlete gives me so much hope. Hope that little by little people will listen, open their minds and hearts, and slowly but surely change.