Play on, but speak out

The following column expresses the views of the sports editors of The Oracle. It does not necessarily represent the opinion of anyone else on the editorial board or staff.

Ever since George Floyd’s murder on Memorial Day this past May, athletes have become some of the most prominent activists for racial justice and police reform in the United States. Over the summer, these athletes have experienced heightened backlash for speaking out publicly against causes they are passionate about.

To their credit, many Americans have been much more accepting of athletes speaking for social change compared to years past, a contrast from previous protests like NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s in 2016. However, there are still far too many calls for athletes to “Shut up and dribble,” to use the term coined by Fox News host Laura Ingraham in 2018.

Ingraham was directly criticizing NBA stars LeBron James and Kevin Durant for “talking politics” in an interview, which she claimed was something an athlete should not be allowed to do publicly. That sentiment has since been shared far and wide on social media, littering the comment sections of athlete activists like James and Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell.

Many people see sports as an escape from when the “real world” feels way too real. We get it. But that does not in any way disqualify athletes from speaking out about causes they are passionate about. Furthermore, watching Black athletes compete while simultaneously ignoring the issues that affect them and the people they care about does a complete disservice to these players. They are not entertainment objects, they are real people affected by very real problems in our country.

Recent movements across the NBA and the NFL have included moments of silence, messages on jerseys and social media activism. Following the shooting of Jacob Blake on Aug. 23, outcry and confusion from teams led to a debate over canceling the remainder of the NBA season. This should not be met with such vitriol as athletes are seeing right now.

Nothing separates an athlete from any other worker in the United States besides the fact that they are in the public eye. That does not preclude them from having their own political opinions and sharing them publicly if they so choose. Of course, no one is asking you to agree with everything they say. That would be ridiculous, just as it would be ridiculous to ask you to agree with everything that we say.

The point is, someone’s political views and their right to share those views should still be respected, regardless of their job, race or political preference.