Using their platform

Andrew+McCutchen%2C+LeBron+James+and+Colin+Kaepernick+are+leading+figures+of+the+Black+Lives+Matter+movement+within+their+respective+sports.+Art+by+Hayden+Davidson.

Hayden Davidson

Andrew McCutchen, LeBron James and Colin Kaepernick are leading figures of the Black Lives Matter movement within their respective sports. Art by Hayden Davidson.

By Hayden Davidson, Kirkwood High School

In a post directed toward fellow athletes and artists, LeBron James tweeted on June 23:

We have incredible influence in our community. We need to use this moment to demand change. I gotta be honest…I struggle with what to demand because so damn much needs to change. But I’m starting with our right to vote.”

James has helped create remarkable change in race relations and education reform, and now aims to contribute to voting reform through More Than a Vote, a voting rights group started by James and other athletes with a goal of bringing attention to and tackling voter suppression. James has been at the forefront of social justice activism through numerous organizations and on social media. During the Black Lives Matter movement, his words are, and should be, incredibly valued.

“I’ve never shied away from being who I am,” James told reporters after a scrimmage in late July. “I speak about things that not only affect me, that hit home for me, but that also affect my community and affect Black people.”

His words have a tremendous impact on society, as his voice reaches many different audiences regardless of race, gender or age. The age aspect is more important than one might think; many young people don’t care about what a politician has to say, but they’ll listen to their favorite athlete. Other professional sports stars are echoing James’s sentiments, spreading messages and ideas to their fan bases as well.

There have been athletes of James’s stature going back generations — Muhammad Ali, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell, Jackie Robinson — who have all made great progress in combating societal issues. With the current generation of athletes, speaking out about injustice and other problems is increasingly influential, in large part due to the rise of social media. The phrase that has gained popularity is “using their platform.”

The most notable situation of athletes protesting racial injustice in recent memory is Colin Kaepernick. The former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, despite performing well on the field and leading his team to the Super Bowl in 2013, lost his job after kneeling during the national anthem before every game of the 2016 season. Kaepernick has not been signed by any team since then. He was willing to make a strong statement that was questioned by much of the NFL’s fan base, and as a result his career was brought to a halt. Players in other leagues, like the NBA, MLB and WNBA, have visibly protested racial injustice since their seasons began in July.

In the MLB this summer, a group of more than 100 Black current and former players formed The Players Alliance, whose motto is “One Team. One Dream. Be the Change.” According to its website, the group’s mission is “to use our collective voice and platform to create increased opportunities for the Black community in every aspect of our game and beyond.” There’s the word “platform” again, and the organization will gain recognition through social media. A social justice video featuring Black MLB players went viral in June and helped launch The Players Alliance. A strong individual effort from a member of The Players Alliance was made by former National League MVP Andrew McCutchen, who wrote a speech about changing injustices and uniting as one read by Morgan Freeman before the first game of the 2020 season.

We have incredible influence in our community. We need to use this moment to demand change.”

— LeBron James on Twitter

Some outsiders don’t accept these gestures made by athletes, though. The whole “shut up and dribble” jab from the past couple years is a joke. These athletes should be using their platform to spark positive change. Professional athletes have the resources and accessibility to truly make viable change in society. They’re not expected to speak out and shouldn’t be required to, but if they want to, it should be respected. If some sports fans don’t like it, they can keep their focus on how their favorite team performs on the playing field.

Do people have to listen to what professional athletes have to say? Of course not. Is it a sideshow? No. To put it simply, they are just people speaking out to their fan base. So in that case, LeBron and all other athletes who aim to create change, continue to share your ideas on social media. We’re listening.

This story was originally published on The Kirkwood Call on August 24, 2020.