June 6, 2020

Don't Stick to Sports

It's a popular refrain we hear whenever a notable sports figure deigns to go outside his or her supposed expertise and comment on a political or social issue consuming the world.

"Stick to sports."

After all, you're just here to entertain me. Your value is wholly in your performance on court or on the field. You're not paid to opine on topics outside your purview.

But if we've learned anything over the last few weeks, it's perhaps exactly when athletes don't do that that they have the most impact.

In a year that's already been rocked by so many tragedies, the tennis community has again come together in the days since the brutal death of George Floyd to make a statement.

Frances Tiafoe and college star Ayan Broomfield came together to put out a powerful video featuring the sport's biggest talents and a haunting message: "#RaquetsDownHandsUp"

View this post on Instagram

“Our Lives Begin To End The Day We Become Silent About Things That Matter” Martin Luther King Jr. Thank you to everyone that joined us in this, it starts with each and every one of us. • • @serenawilliams @iamgaelmonfils @katadams68 @malwashington @kgmontjane1 @zackeveee @k1ng_2._0 @heatherwatson92 @jarmere @naomiosaka @sloanestephens @tennisdarian @eastpoint_jenkins @tsongaofficiel @asia.muhammad @coacho.g @r_bizzeee @donaldyoungjr @mcneil8970 @coreygauff @haileybaptiste @ymerjr @philsbrainparade @thechandarubin @michaelmmoh @sachiavick @kamaumurray @cocogauff @garrisonzina #tennisforequality #lovewins #itisbiggerthantennis • • Song: Glory (@johnlegend @common) Thank you for creating such an impactful piece of art. Special thank you to Brian Tsao (@the_general_tsao ) for helping with edits. • • @wta @atp @espn @usta @itf__tennis @shaunking @bleacherreport @theshaderoom @octagon

A post shared by Frances Tiafoe (@bigfoe1998) on

Coco Gauff, all of sixteen years old, spoke to crowds in her hometown of Delray Beach with an eloquence that many politicians and most adults can't seem to muster for these trying times.

And Naomi Osaka, who just as lockdown was beginning made a vow to be less shy, has come out swinging in the fight for social justice and equality.

They're far from the only people trying to use their platforms to speak out. Martina Navratilova, Andy Roddick, Nicole Gibbs, and of course Serena Williams -- whose husband resigned from the board of the company he founded so a black director could take his place -- have all been huge advocates for the cause.

And why shouldn't they be?

The argument can't be that they have no base of knowledge to comment on the subject. It was just a few years ago that my dear James Blake was a victim himself, abused by police after being mistaken for a criminal. As he writes, if it weren't for the fact that another cop recognized him, he doesn't know what might have happened to him. That's a kind of fear that no one should have -- famous athlete or not.

And with their base of fans, athletes are arguably the best chance of spreading the message and affecting change that we have. And the more that sign on, the better -- Colin Kaepernick's been trying to make his point for years, and it was only after this latest movement that the NFL finally admitted that its treatment of player protestors was wrong. Whether that gets Kaps back on a roster remains to be seen, but it's a start.

Of course the "stick to sports" trope can be trotted out selectively. Laura Ingraham was quick to defend Drew Brees's respect of the U.S. flag while commanding LeBron James to "shut up and dribble." And I found myself with "stick-to-sports" feelings when Lisa Raymond tweeted (and subsequently seems to have removed) a post equating "bad apple" cops to "bad apple" protestors. But we need to hear their voices -- all their voices -- if we're going to be able to educate ourselves.

And hopefully, even when there are once again live sports to stick to, the voices calling for justice will continue to be heard far louder than anything that's happening on court.

No comments: