Athletes Should Advocate for Social Change

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The University of Utah Men's Basketball Runnin' Utes score a free throw in the game vs the Butler Bulldogs at the Huntsman Center on Monday, November 28, 2016

San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich is notorious for giving sideline reporters the bare minimum to work with. He thinks mid-game interviews are ridiculous, so when a reporter asks a question, something along the lines of, “Can you tell us your strategy for the fourth quarter,” he responds with a quick “No.” However, that’s not always his demeanor. When a reporter asked him about his thoughts on the 2016 election when Donald Trump was named President, he gave his honest opinion.

“I’m still sick to my stomach, and not basically because the Republicans won or anything, but the disgusting tenor, tone and all the comments that have been xenophobic, homophobic, racist, misogynistic,” Popovich said. “And I live in that country where half the people ignored all that to elect someone. That’s the scariest part of [the] whole thing to me.”

Popovich did this because he understands the platform he has been given. He understands that in addition to his role as a head coach he has a role to comment on things of this nature. In a way, it is his job to give a voice to the voiceless. The owners of the Spurs are Trump supporters, yet he did not care about any potential punishment, because why should he?

Then there are coaches on the opposite end of the spectrum. Ones like Bill Belichick, who completely dodged questions about the election, because he just wanted to talk about football. While he has the right to do so, he should understand that his opinion does matter, and fans do care about what his thoughts are. It’s ignorant of him to pretend as if his responsibilities do not extend beyond football.

Although these are just instances involving coaches, responsibilities like this fall on players who are primarily in the spotlight.

Colin Kaepernick made waves when he decided to kneel during the National Anthem because he did not agree with what it stood for. LeBron James rallied a few NBA players to wear shirts with the words “I can’t breathe” in response to Eric Garner being choked to death. When Los Angeles Clipper players heard about the racist comments their owner Donald Sterling made, they decided to wear their warmup shirts inside out. These players understand that they have a job to not only win a game but to voice their opinions.

Often times kids aspire to be like these guys. They want to play in the NBA, the NFL, or another professional sports league of their choosing. However, making it to that level isn’t easy, and it’s a long journey. Players like James, who did not have the greatest upbringing give these kids someone to look up to because they realize they can do just about anything they set their minds to. And when they see players speak out on racism, police violence, etc., it only speaks to them more.

Players should understand how their actions, or lack of, can have an impact on more than just their immediate groups of friends or family. Athletes and coaches don’t only speak for themselves when they take the stand following a win or loss, they are speaking on behalf of the entire team. And they’re being ignorant if they choose to pretend that their opinions, that their voices, don’t make a difference.

Athletes, coaches, and people in positions of power have a responsibility to use their status to increase awareness about important social issues.

In the midst of the Women’s March, Popovich again voiced his opinion. Fellow professional athletes and coaches should follow in his footsteps.

“I feel great today watching the march in protest to how [Trump] has conducted himself, because it tells me, ‘Hey, I really do live in a country where a whole lot of people care.’ And we have to be vigilant to make sure of that.”

k.brenneisen@dailyutahchronicle.com

@kbrenneisen

Kim Brenneisen
Kim Brenneisen has been a part of The Daily Utah Chronicle for three years as a sports writer, assistant sports editor and sports editor. She is currently the print managing editor, and she has interned at MLB.com through the Sports Journalism Institute.

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