Obama could inspire athletes to speak out

By Vincent Balistreri

When Barack Obama was sworn into office on Tuesday, it sent chills through my body like never before and reassured me that anything is possible, no matter what the circumstances.

When deciding to become a journalist, I worried it would be difficult for a biracial person such as myself to be successful in a field that is dominated by Caucasians – unless, of course, you are a former professional athlete.

With Obama being the first African-American president of the United States of America, it has made me realize that race no longer determines success. The day of Jan. 20, 2009, has in fact changed my life. It will affect the world of sports more than any Super Bowl, World Series or NBA Finals ever could.

Many probably see Obama’s connection to sports through the fact that he plays pickup basketball against the UNC Tar Heels and suggests on ESPN that college football needs a playoff to determine a national champion. But those events are nothing compared to the difference he actually makes.

Since the days of Muhammad Ali and Jim Brown, many prominent athletes have been reluctant to discuss their political views in fear of losing endorsements. Now that we have a president who preaches change and likes to knock down a few jumpers in his spare time, the desire of athletes to participate in political discussions has seemed to increase overnight.

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You couldn’t pay an athlete to talk about his political views during the 2004 election, but Obama has greatly influenced the attitude of athletes in making sacrifices for the betterment of society as a whole.

Even Tiger Woods, who over the years has refused to discuss politics, has expressed his admiration and support of Obama. It’s amazing how many athletes support Obama despite the negative impact his tax plan might have on their bank accounts.

For the first time, athletes as a whole are starting to show a sense of selflessness and willingness to help make the country a better place.

People will argue that athletes are only involved with politics now because our president is black and the majority of athletes in the most popular sports – such as football and basketball – are black as well. It’s true in some cases, but this can make a difference to influence an athlete’s future political involvement.

In order to make significant changes in a society, money will have a great influence in expediting the process of change. Who better than the multi-million-dollar athlete who has the riches to make a difference in society while still being able to live a wealthy lifestyle?

Obama has reached a level of superstardom that the majority of athletes can only dream of; they can’t help but be influenced by him.

When listening to Kevin Garnett say “anything is possible” after winning the 2008 NBA title, I took it as him just being silly after his first championship. But waking up today and realizing that my president is black lets me know that anything really is possible.

Vincent Balistreri is a columnist for the Arizona Daily Wildcat.