The purpose of sports is to bring people together, which is an admirable endeavor. Naysayers who say, “There shouldn’t be politics in my sports” fail to realize that it is athletes, specifically Black athletes, who have the ability through their broad influence, especially with young people, to correct the racial biases and dogmas that have stifled the American journey to a racially equitable society. Many Black athletes are without peers in bringing their audiences together. Sports icons like Lebron James, Serena Williams, and yes, Colin Kaepernick, have wielded their social and economic influence like few before them. Their actions beg the question, How? How did these athletes acquire the social capital needed to play the role of agents of change?
Their behaviors can be traced back to February 26, 2012, when Trayvon Martin was killed for the crime of walking down a street while Black. The killing not only sparked the Black Lives Matter movement; but it also served as a launchpad for Black athletes to speak out in pursuit of social justice. From George Floyd and Breonna Taylor this year, to Philando Castile and Alton Sterling of years past, Black athletes now stand undaunted and unyielding. Why? Better yet, what exactly has enabled them to become this activist athlete? It is quite simple. They hold in their sphere of influence the hearts of millions of young white people who consider the athletes role models.
As a person who attended both an elementary and middle school, which had only a handful of minority students, I’ve witnessed the Black athlete/role model phenomenon firsthand. White students would have their parents buy Black athletes’ items of apparel like shoes; would mimic their moves and swagger; would duplicate their hairstyles and speech patterns. As it turns out, young people tend to listen to what their role models have to say, and the activist Black athlete has recently been saying that Black Lives matter, further, to vote like Black Lives Matter.
Luckily, in the 2020 election season, millions of young white voters. who have been influenced by Black athletes activism, will be eligible to vote for the first time. I know many of these new young voters. I grew up with them and understand that they have the potential to fundamentally alter race relations in this country for the better. Voting as a bloc, they could end the failed experiment that is the Trump presidency. Truth be told, both are not mutually exclusive.
Lebron, Serena and Colin stand on the shoulders of sports legends like Muhammad Ali, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, and Bill Russell who were indispensable in loosening the chains on the doors of progress, which they continue to kick down. Their stature in today’s society is unparalleled. They are primary influencers of a racially-unified coalition of Gen Z and Millennials, who have had enough of past injustices. Their role in addition to their athletic prowess is to lead, and, as the great John Lewis would say, get into good trouble.