Athletic activism can be defined as athletes using their platform to shed light on social issues and injustices in the world. People often assume that this only started with Colin Kaepernick, but they are wrong. Past athletes like Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Muhammad Ali, Jackie Robinson, Kathrine Switzer, Tommie Smith and John Carlos have all protested in some sort of way for what they believe in. NBA star, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, boycotted the 1968 Olympics due to racism. Muhammad Ali was a conscientious objector when drafted for the Vietnam War because he believed that it was against the values of his religion. Muhammad Ali was prosecuted and stripped of his Heavy Weight Championship title. However, he never moved away from his beliefs. NBA legend, Bill Russell, and his teammates were denied food at a restaurant due to segregation. In protest, he sat out of the game the next day. Kathrine Switzer hid her real name so she could run in the Boston Marathon. Officials tried taking her number off during the race because at the time women were not allowed to participate in the marathon. These are only a few examples of how athletes have stood-up against social injustice, and have placed a spotlight on these issues for others to consider.
Some believe that this is not the role of athletes. They believe athletes are entertainers who should simply play their part without making any personal statements. However, as Kareem Abdul Jabbar, who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016 stated, “Any athlete that’s an American citizen has a voice. We have a vote and we also have a voice.” This type of conviction has been brought to the forefront of sports news in reason years by Colin Kaepernick, the WBNA and so many other professional athletes. In addition, as athletes are now followed on social media, their opinions can reach millions of followers instantly. The platform of sports stardom is powerful and when it can be used to challenge the social consciousness of the public, it can make a tremendous difference.
Athletic activism is also seen in the RHS community. Members of the sports teams at RHS demonstrate their commitment to change in our community everyday. Matt Winnert, this year’s Captain of the JV soccer team and a leader of the Unified Sports Club, says “When you are part of a community, you have a responsibility to help out and do as much as you can to try to improve the lives of others.” Matt’s leadership in the Unified Sports Club (an initiative run by the Special Olympics) makes the RHS community a more inclusive environment by helping bring together students of all ability levels in sports activities. As sport is the type of activity that brings all kinds of people together, the efforts of Matt and other athletes at RHS, as well as professional athletes around the world, provide leadership in creating positive change in their communities.
Elisha de Silva
Graphic: Jiah Lee