July 30, 2018, LeBron James addresses a crowd of students, parents, local officials, and sponsors at the opening of the I Promise school in Akron, Ohio. The school is a partnership between the LeBron James Family foundation and Akron Public Schools. (Photo by Allison Farrand/NBAE)

How Pro Athletes Are Responding to the Current Political Climate

The U.S. Capitol building is the meeting place of the United States Congress, the cornerstone of the legislative branch where lawmakers meet to discuss and create laws for the county. The building is connected to symbols of American democracy and peaceful governance.

But the situation was quite the opposite from peaceful on January 6, 2021. On the day that Congress was set to confirm Joe Biden as the next President, Trump supporters forced their way into the U.S. Capitol to voice their beliefs that voting fraud had led to Trump’s election loss. In addition to damage and theft to the physical building, five people died from the events, and many more were seriously injured. The insurrection has caused further social divisions within the country, sparking connections to the Black Lives Matter protests of this past summer.

Many players and staff members of the most popular sports leagues, including the NFL and NBA, have condemned the Capitol riots for their violence and in revealing the disparities of civil liberties within the country. Specifically, many have highlighted two separate United States of Americas, depending on race. They point to the photos of fully-armed national guardsmen swarming the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the Black Lives Matter protests, which were composed of many citizens of color. In contrast, a small handful of officers were called upon to control the Capitol rioters, a large riot made up primarily of white citizens. As Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics forward, said, “in one America, you get killed from sleeping in your car, selling cigarettes, or playing in your backyard. And in another America, you get to storm the Capitol. No tear gas, no massive arrests, none of that.” To add on, Lebron James of the Los Angeles Lakers, said “There’s no ifs, ands, or buts. We would already know what would have happened to my kind [African-Americans] if anybody got close to the Capitol, let alone storm inside the offices, inside the hallways.” NFL Seattle Seahawks offensive lineman Duane Brown reflected that “It’s been incited, and people can’t be surprised by what’s happening because it’s been kinda provoked for a long time; it’s here now, and it’s not being met with the same outrage and anger as other protests.”

On the brighter side, NBA players and teams could put aside their competitive differences to unite together. For example, before a Golden State Warriors and Clippers game, all players, supported by their coaches, lined up and knelt while the National Anthem played. In another match, the Bucks and Pistons knelt right after the tip-off to acknowledge the country’s ongoing social and racial struggles. Lastly, before tip-off in Phoenix, the Suns and Raptors joined arms in a unified circle to sing the U.S. and Canadian anthems. With such a large fan base and platform, these players send positive messages to the more significant population that unity within our country is needed to overcome a divisive political climate.

Unfortunately, the new year has been ushered in with political and civil unrest. An RHS student, Cole Conneen, suggests that “our nation is one of the most extremely politically divided nations in the world, and I feel like that is due to three factors: our news networks, education system, and law enforcement. Firstly, our news networks twist stories, write false narratives, and instill viscous and disrespectful thoughts on their opposite political party and rival news networks that I believe have caused a large amount of division in our country. Secondly, our education system does not do a good enough job making sure that ALL students and people feel like they matter and that their voice matters. I think as a nation, we have always encouraged peaceful protesting. Still, from a law enforcement perspective, we must crack down on punishment for violent protests and ensure people go about getting their voices heard peacefully and respectfully, so that way our nation can strive for change in the best way possible.”
Rather than pointing fingers at the left or the right, Democrats or Republicans, everyone must acknowledge that blame cannot be put only on one side of the political spectrum. Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson summed it up best when he told reporters, “What we do need to do is come together as a nation … It has to start with people coming together. Our leaders and everything else in our country. We need safety, we need protection for our children and people.”

Brandon Shintani
Sports & Wellness Columnist

Photo: Allison Farrand/NBAE

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