Athletes need to have a voice on social issues

By Mubarak Salami

Professional athletes are constantly under the watchful eye of the public. Because they make millions and society has become infatuated with every aspect of their lives, star athletes are always on the big stage.

Whether they like it or not, their words and actions dramatically effect others. Consequently, athletes have a responsibility. They have a responsibility to use that voice, that extreme reach to speak on social issues that affect their local communities as well as those issues that gain national attention.

Athletes need to speak up because they can.

Because they have a tremendous platform to do so, a platform that other individuals do not have.

The past couple months have been a tumultuous time for our country. A period of time that has been dominated by controversial judicial processes, countless riots and protests in response to these decisions, and most importantly young men losing their lives.

So, why I am imploring athletes to do something about this?

They have nationwide visibility and the ability to reach a vast amount of people.

Some athletes are already choosing to capitalize on this opportunity.

Take for instance, Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose. On Saturday night, during pregame warmups before the game against the Golden State Warriors on Saturday, Rose wore an “I Can’t Breathe” shirt. The shirt refers to the last words of Eric Garner. Garner, a New York resident, was killed in July after a police officer placed him in a chokehold. Last Wednesday, a grand jury decided that the officer involved in the case would not be indicted in Garner’s death. There have since been rampant protests regarding the decision.

For Rose, a player who usually chooses to stay silent regarding most issues, especially those not pertaining to basketball, this is an enormous social statement.

It shows that not only is he cognizant of the social issues that are prevalent in our society, but more importantly, it shows that Rose has taken a definitive stand on these issues. Something that other professional athletes must do.

Thankfully, Rose is not the only athlete taking a stand.

Two weeks ago, five members of the St. Louis Rams chose to do something for their community. Players Jared Cook, Kenny Britt, Tavon Austin, Chris Givens and Stedman Bailey chose to walk out of the tunnel right before kickoff with their hands up. They did so in order to represent the “hands up, don’t shoot” protest that has emerged after teenager Michael Brown was killed in a shooting in Feguson, Missouri. A grand jury decided not to indict the officer responsible for Brown’s death, a move that has caused violent backlash and outbreak in Missouri and around the country.

Nevertheless, the gesture by these Rams players showed their community they care. Their point was made and their voice was heard just by raising their hands in the air.

Simple yet profound.

This is the kind of action I am calling for from professional athletes and I’m not the only one.

NBA legend and ESPN commentator Magic Johnson recently expressed his belief that athletes have a duty to speak on social issues.

“For us to change things, we have to get people to the table that can bring about change,” Johnson said. “Athletes have to get involved socially. They have to because it affects them, too.”

Now I’m not asking for all athletes to become politicians. They are professional athletes; they should be focusing on the sports they play.

However, they are humans too and all humans have a right to speak and voice their beliefs. Some may argue and say athletes should remain quiet and stay out of social debates, but I disagree. When people feel strong emotion, they are compelled to express their feelings. Athletes are no different.

Whether it comes in the form of wearing a shirt, saying something during a press conference or even tweeting something that may get retweeted thousands of times, athletes need to have social input.

Besides, what’s the point of having a voice if you’re not going to use it?

Mubarak is senior in LAS. He can be reached [email protected] and on Twitter @justmubar.