Jackie Robinson. Muhammad Ali. Colin Kaepernick. Now, athletes have often been some of the most socially outspoken members of society. With the advent of social platforms like Twitter and Instagram, athletes have been able to interact more in the public sphere, weighing in on global topics to ever-expanding audiences. Some athletes choose to use this expanded platform as a means to push political agendas, call for social change, and protest social injustices.
Some athletes have used their followings to combat the scrutiny they faced as a result of their status. Athletes like LeBron James and Draymond Green have used their platforms to voice their dissatisfaction with both their industry and society. But as their examples show, it is a difficult and complicated position, as many realize the nature of the organizations aim to rob them of own voices and political agency.
During a lecture on Carter G Woodson, Prof. Hines explained that his contributions and advocacy for the Black community served as an example of both Black activism and the difficulties of navigating white-dominated fields. Through his work, she suggests that one can rethink the act of radicalism. In making this assertion, Hines aimed to demonstrate that conventional opinion has it that radicalism can only be expressed through either act of violent demonstrations and social disobedience. But, when using Woodson‘s legacy as an example, when you can see that radicalism can also be found in the advancement of other dimensions like healthcare, black advocacy, and self-expression.
Woodson‘s career also serves as evidence of the battle Black public figures have with public scrutiny and their own personal moral and political values. Speaking specifically on Woodson’s work, The Case of the Negro, Professor Hines explains that the text challenged conventional racism and eurocentrism present in academia at the time. Because of his opinions which he felt he could not release because it would alienate him in his field. Paul by doing such a thing what’s an actively strategically embraces objectivity and uses this ongoing relationship with academia as a way to continue his meaningful work, though there are components he had to silence.
This internal conflict that Woodson identifies in his career is one that confronts many black public figures today. Over time, this same dilemma still complicates the experience for especially Black athletes, who have a different time trying to embrace a larger white-dominated field.
Draymond Green, forward for the Golden State Warriors has been very vocal about his disdain for the power dynamic at play in the world of professional sports. In an appearance on HBO’s The Shop, He specifically problematized the language fundamentally used in the sport, seeking to bring an end to the use of the term “owner”. As he said, “Very rarely do we take the time to rethink something and say, ‘Maybe that’s not the way,'” Green said. “Just because someone was taught that 100 years ago doesn’t make that the right thing today. And so, when you look at the word ‘owner,’ it really dates back to slavery. The word ‘owner,’ ‘master’—it dates back to slavery… we just took the words and we continued to put it to use.”
In response to Green’s comments, some of the top executives in the league offered criticism, believing his opinions to be incorrect. Mark Cuban, head of the Dallas Mavericks, in a statement to ESPN said “For him to try to turn it into something it’s not is wrong,” “He owes the NBA an apology. I think he does, because to try to create some connotation that owning equity in a company that you busted your ass for is the equivalent of ownership in terms of people, that’s just wrong. That’s just wrong in every which way.”
By weighing in on this topic, Cuban communicates what appears to be a standard for the conduct of the league- one in which the biggest profiteers are the same individuals whose voices are valued over others. His statement attempts to invisibilize the issue Green highlighted, dismissing any validation his claim about the history of this nation.
Lebron James, in an interview with Cari Champion for the show Uninterrupted, spoke about his growth and the challenges that come with being a black public figure in America. Addressing the current political climate and the presidency, James said “the number-one job in America, the appointed person, is someone who doesn’t understand the people. And really don’t give a (expletive) about the people.”
As a result of this statement, James became the target of media attacks. Laura Ingraham spoke on James’s comments on her Fox News program The Ingraham Angle, calling them “barely intelligible” and “ungrammatical”. She continued with her “It’s always unwise to seek political advice from someone who gets paid $100 million a year to bounce a ball,” she said. “Keep the political comments to yourselves. … Shut up and dribble.”
In the consideration of the racial backdrop and history of the US, backlash like this has constantly been used against Black athletes. Telling Lebron and other athletes likewise to refrain from sharing their political views actively attempts to constrain their social value and relevance to a sport. By mocking his intelligence, Ingraham attempted to make use of existing stereotypes about Black men in particular. Subsequently, she also trivializes his status as a Black athlete. The presence of this troubling relationship forces one to consider whether there is any merit in these athletes taking part in such an industry, one which appears to be deaf to their concerns and their realities.
Beyond the pushback that these two athletes received lies a long-standing American tradition of anti-Black racism. Their encounters with these issues demonstrate how this racism has permeated multiple levels of society and has continued to set the precedent for how Black athletes are heard, viewed, and treated. If Black athletes are to continue to make a push for their freedom of thought, then they must inadvertently combat the narratives which seek to silence their voices.
MacMahon, Tim. “Mark Cuban to Draymond Green: We Own Equity, Not People.” ESPN, ESPN Internet Ventures, 4 Nov. 2017, www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/21277983/mark-cuban-says-warriors-draymond-green-owes-apology-remark-team-owners.
“Rolling With The Champion.” UNINTERRUPTED, www.uninterrupted.com/original/4sc6zY2DFYQCgg66oCeeeM/rolling-with-the-champion.