More Than An Athlete - WRT 205 Project

By: Brianna Cofield, Sophie Dinow, Kayla Pasacreta, and Raveena Suma

He [Donald Trump] doesn’t understand the people. And really don’t give a f— about the people.
— Lebron James

This quote was the only thing Lebron James needed to become the subject of Conservative outrage. Although the sentiments were because of his negative comments about the Commander-in-the-Chief, the reason for the outrage was clear: How dare this black athlete disrespect our President?

On February 16th, 2019, Lebron  was interviewed by ESPN broadcaster Cari Champion.  During the interview, he made a comment referring to the president. You can watch the full interview here.

In response to the interview,Fox news anchor Laura Ingraham made some comments on her show about Lebron James that should make you angry.  Laura Ingraham immediately fired back, telling the 14-time-NBA-star to “shut up and dribble”, and called his comments “ignorant” and “barely intelligible”. Laura Ingraham’s comments highlight the problem many people in society have: realizing that athletic stars are more than just athletes.  In August 2018, Lebron James and his foundation opened the "I Promise School", a school specifically designed for disadvantaged students. The school also provides services like  uniforms, food for families, career placement services, bikes and helmets for each student, transportation for qualified individuals, and GEDs and job placement services for parents. Nearly a year after its opening, the academic results from the Measures of Academic Progress showed that 90 percent of the students “met or exceeded” the goals in reading and math .

Lebron James’ "I Promise School”, photo via  Lebron James Family Foundation

Lebron James’ "I Promise School”, photo via Lebron James Family Foundation

Lebron James continues to speak up and let people know that he will not just “shut up and dribble”. In response to Ingraham and others, he has produced a Showtime three-part documentary titled “Shut up and Dribble” that explores basketball’s effect on culture and society. Before playing in the 2018 NBA All-Star game, James made a subtle response to Ingraham by rocking a pair of custom Air Force 1’s with the saying “More than an Athlete” written on the sides.

Other high status figures supported James in his battle against these comments. Hillary Clinton tweeted out  a message to support James:

Lebron James isn’t the only athlete to use his platform to speak out for important issues. On August 26, 2016, Colin Kaepernick began his own form of protest, as he chose to kneel during the National Anthem. Although Kaepernick was given advice by a U.S. veteran that kneeling was more respectful than sitting in the locker room, his protest quickly sparked backlash from much of America. Kaepernick became one of the most controversial discussions regarding what he did and how he meant it.

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” he told NFL Media.

On September 1, 2016 Kaepernick knelt for the national anthem and was booed throughout the game. His actions to many were considered disrespectful towards patriotism, however for others it was a point of inspiration. On September 11, 2016, several other players in solidarity with Kaepernick knelt or raised their fist during the anthem, in addition to the entire Indiana Fever team of the WNBA kneeling as well. As protests continued, Trump tweeted suggesting that those who do not stand for the anthem should be fired. Kaepernick remained unsigned, as many started suggesting that he was blackballed by the league, resulting in him filing a grievance against the NFL, which he later won.

On September 3, 2018 Kaepernick became the face and voice of Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign.

photo via  Nike

photo via Nike

“Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”

Furthermore, Kaepernick founded the Know Your Rights Camp which is a free campaign for youths in order to raise awareness on higher education, self empowerment, and instructions on properly interacting with law enforcement in various scenarios.

His 10 points for the campaign are:

1. YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE FREE.

2. YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE HEALTHY.

3. YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE BRILLIANT.

4. YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE SAFE.

5. YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE LOVED.

6. YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE COURAGEOUS.

7. YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE ALIVE.

8. YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE TRUSTED.

9. YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE EDUCATED.

10. YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO KNOW YOUR RIGHTS.

Colin Kaepernick continues the legacy of activism in the black community.  He wants to continue to make change as much as black athletes have done over the past century. Not only his he making is own change, he’s sparking the minds of countless young black children who find unlimited inspiration in figures like him.

From the activism sparked by Kaepernick, alongside Lebron James, Serena Williams isn’t too far behind with her own agenda. The idea of being apolitical when it comes to sports has simply become a luxury as only the privileged can choose to detach politics from sports, as they are not affected by racism or sexism on the field.

Serena has been the face of racism and gender criticism throughout her time on the field. In September she received a penalty for her frustrations against the umpire. Although, her actions have been looked over in the past when they were done by male tennis players. Before that, Williams wore a catsuit to help with her blood clots after her pregnancy. This resulted in the French Tennis Federation banning such attire from the courts, citing it as being disrespectful to the game and the field. Williams brings up French player Alize Cornet who was charged for a violation as she switched her top around while player Novak Djokovic was photographed smiling without a shirt on in the same tournament, and faced no consequences. Furthermore, Williams was actually one of the reasons that playback technology started being used for tennis games.

photo via  Nike

photo via Nike

Serena Williams narrated a recent 2019 Nike ad campaign titled “Dream Crazier”. The ad is set to inspire female athletes. It’s a celebration for women in sports, those who have broken barriers and continue to inspire generations of athletes to go after their dreams. It’s an ad that inspires individuals to continue to take risks in order to achieve their dreams. It showcases highlights of women athletes such as Chloe Kim, a snowboarder who was the first female to land frontside double cork 1080. This specific ad focused on female athletes pushing back against gender stereotypes in the sports world but she also chose to acknowledge athletes of color such as Chloe Kim and Ibtihaj Muhammad, the first woman to wear a hijab in the Olympics.

Just like Williams, it becomes important for athletes with a platform that reaches millions, to utilize their stage in ways that go beyond their sport. Serena Williams, Lebron James, and Colin Kaepernick are examples of athletes proving to the world that they are more than just athletes. To criticize their choice to bring light to social injustices simply shows a lack of understanding that these individuals are simply more than their sports. Silencing them is an attempt to take away from the fact that these individuals, at the end of the day, are human who all want a safer environment for the future generation of young black children. Even though it is 2019, inequality still runs rampant in society and we need high-profile figures to continue to speak out about it.

Since before we can remember, athletes have always spoken out regarding the issues of politics and they shared their opinion. Each president responded differently when it came to athletes speaking out about activism. The presidency of Donald Trump has sparked some commentary among political views and their outside opinions regarding politics and the way President Trump was campaigning his presidency. “But in an America that is still reeling from a divisive presidential election cycle, where the rise of President Donald Trump catapulted heated debates over race and social issues into the mainstream, many athletes are becoming politically active in a way not seen in decades. And not everyone is happy about it.” (Zaru, 2017). The debates and issues surrounding Trump sparked more activism amongst most people, including athletes. People started to get more involved and were more inclined to share what they believed to be true regarding issues in the political world. Athletes from all different areas have come together to share passionate opinions regarding issues that they feel strongly about. “But rather than embrace professional athletes as a way to broaden his political appeal, President Trump has used them as a constant foil for his presidency — fuel for stoking the culture wars and serving as sometimes unwitting antagonists in his personal feuds.” (Nakamura, 2017). Athletes are discussing Trump’s political decisions and sharing what they feel regarding certain issue. Each president treated athletes differently and had different views on their views towards activism.

When Colin Kaepernick exercised his right to a silent protest, President Donald Trump condemned him. On his Twitter page, he penned 38 tweets bashing Kaepernick and the NFL players who knelt in solidarity with him. He stated that NFL players should be happy “They make a fortune doing what they love......” Aside from the President’s use of his official Twitter account to bash citizens, he frequently shows hypocrisy in what political stances he decides to take issue with. At a political rally, Trump went as far as to call on NFL owners to, “Get that son of a b---h off the field!”

On April 27th, Trump tweeted a message of congratulations to Nick Bosa, the second draft pick in the 2019 draft class.

Instead of congratulating the first draft pick, black football player, Kyle Murray, Trump chose to congratulate Bosa - and that is no coincidence. CNN commentator Angela Rye spoke up about this in an Instagram post, “The most consistent thing about Trump is his support for white supremacy. Let’s not act like all is coincidental..OH…y’all think it was a coincidence that the #2 draft pick who JUST SO HAPPENS to call Colin Kaepernick a clown gets drafted by the 49ers? Oh. Ok.”

Bosa has been criticized for a number of tweets that critics have called racially charged. According to Time, “The tweets, which have since been deleted, describe Black Panther as the “worst Marvel movie”; describe Beyonce’s music as “trash,” and call former 49ers player Colin Kaepernick a “clown.” He was also criticized for “liking” many Instagram posts with racist and homophobic slurs”. Instead of criticizing Murray for voicing his (political) opinion of Colin Kaepernick’s protest, he was applauded by the President. This further highlights the privilege white athletes are afforded - they did not have to sacrifice their political opinions and free speech to be accepted by society.

For years, black athletes have dominated sports like basketball and football. Their sports performances engage the nation and feed our interests into sports, yet they are not afforded the luxury of speaking out on issues like their white counterparts. We want you to know that these people are more than just athletes. Undermining their stories and experiences is not reflective of a fair society. We should continue to applaud black athletes who use to platform to speak on issues bigger than them.