What is the role of sports in society? Some might say to provide entertainment; others might argue that it helps increase revenue for a city. A large group of people might describe professional sports as simply an escape: an escape from the messed-up world we currently find ourselves in, an escape from complex political issues, an escape from our ever-evolving personal lives and, more generally, an escape from reality.
The Trump presidency will be long-heralded as something we have never seen before. A businessman turned political leader has divided the country to an extent we have never seen before. Perhaps Trump is the president that the American people have heard from the most – given his unique and never-seen-before use of social media platforms. No matter what side of the aisle you sit on, you must agree that Trump seems to have an opinion on most issues – whether that is for better or worse is for you to decide.
What is beyond apparent, however, is that sports are no longer an escape from society. Professional sports have become a microcosm of American society. Professional athletes have used their platform at an unprecedented level. This all began, primarily, in 2016, when San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat and later knelt during the national anthem. Opinions poured in from everywhere, whether that be from then-candidate Donald Trump or from global sports superstars like LeBron James.
As social unrest and issues like police brutality developed, athletes’ voices became amplified more and more. Trump’s America changed the scope of professional sports forever. No longer are athletes “just athletes.” Athletes now recognize they have a platform and know how to use that platform to advocate for issues they see in society. In fact, on the opening day of the 2020 Major League Baseball season, the Tampa Bay Rays put out a Tweet calling for the arrest of the BreonnaTaylor’s killer.
Much of this came to a boiling point when Fox News host Laura Ingraham called out NBA icon LeBron James, telling him to “shut up and dribble.”
Since then, athletes have protested President Trump in countless ways, whether it be kneeling during the national anthem – something the President disproves of – or calling the President out via his most accessible place: social media. Another common thread was athletes advocating for people to vote.
The entire world has been turned into “America” this week. With battles raging in states like Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona and Pennsylvania, the world of sports was not tuned out to this.
The sports world took over social media and the news, pushing people to vote. For example, on Election Day, numerous members of the Philadelphia Eagles rode around the city, urging people to vote and entertaining those waiting in line to vote.
Nearly every professional sports team and all professional sports leagues put out messages encouraging their followers to vote. While athletes took more partisan stances themselves, the teams and leagues were focused on pushing people to vote no matter what candidate the voters backed.
The leagues encouraged voting in a way that did not divide or put partisan lines between their fans. While most athletes backed Joe Biden, teams and leagues did not – they simply encouraged the participation in our political process.
Athletes, as previously mentioned, did make specific endorsements. LeBron James got into a back-and-forth with the President and advocated for Joe Biden. Countless athletes, including some NBA players who were located in the bubble, protested against the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Jacob Blake.
New Philadelphia 76ers coach Doc Rivers campaigned for Joe Biden at Philadelphia events in the weeks and days leading up to the election.
Colin Kaepernick was not the first athlete to make a political stance. But since his move in 2016, the role of athletes has changed in American society. Athletes no longer just “shut up and dribble.” They are no longer focused solely on their craft.
Athletes have always had a platform in society, and now, whether you like it or not, all athletes are using their platform to advocate for change. Even Dr. Martin Luther King knew the role athletes could play in changing society. Many don’t know that King developed a strong relationship with Cassius Clay, better known as Muhammad Ali.
No matter who sits in the Oval Office, athletes will continue using their voices to advocate for change.