The Power of Athlete Activism


We live in a society were athletes are more than just athletes, they’re heroes. We all want to be like our favorite athlete, we strive to meet them someday  or fantasize about what it would be like to be their best friend. Passionate fans can talk for hours about their favorite athlete and how he carried his team to victory. When a soccer player scores the tie-breaking goal in a world cup match, he instantly becomes the most applauded and loved person in his country; just like a college football player that scores the winning touchdown becomes the most admired student on campus. Whether it’s at a high school, college or professional level, athletes are role models. We look up to them, believe in them and expect a lot from them.

However, can they use these influence to make a difference?

Students at the University of Missouri protested to get the president of the University to resign because little to nothing had been done about the existing racism on campus. However, it was the football team that eventually apportioned the final blow. When the players announced that they would not play until the president resigned, it took Tim Wolfe two days to announce his resignation. The University couldn’t afford for the students to miss a game and the players used it to their advantage.

This was not the first case were athletes used their influence and reach to make a difference. It seems like racism has been a repeating topic of protest by many famous athletes and many have made a difference. When Derrick Rose wore the “I Can’t Breath” shirt in memory of Eric Garner’s death during a game warm up, it mattered. When the Rams Five stood in unison and raised their 10 hands in a don’t shoot matter to support protesters in Ferguson, it made a difference. And so did Magic Johnson’s call to arms, Kenny Smith’s open letter about Ferguson to Charles Barkley, Maryland receiver Deon Long’ s sign with the words #blacklivesmatter and many others not mentioned here.

However, one can’t talk about this topic without mentioning the most famous case of athlete activism. During the 1986 Mexico City Olympics, Tommie Smith and John Carlos turned the victory podium into one of the most emotional and loudest silent protests in history. The athletes bowed their heads and raised black-gloved fists in supports of the civil rights movement, during the national anthem. In a time were America was deeply divided, millions were outraged. But millions more around the world were exhilarated and inspired as they saw two they extremely looked up to, standing unafraid before the entire world, expressing their disappointment of their country. It had such an impact, that we still talk about it today.


Author: sportswille

Reformed ad agency guy. Sac Kings, PGA Tour, Pebble Beach, Aspen yielded fascination with sports business. Now teach at my alma mater, University of Texas Austin: Integrated Marketing, Social Media, Business and Law and Sports Audiences. 40 year streak of single digit handicap under severe pressure.

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