How Sports Influence Social Justice

*a 6 min read*

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

The capability to decipher the meaning of social justice is an enigma in itself. If the question of “what is social justice?” does not make you stop and think for more than a second, you might have to think a little harder. Unfortunately, the answer is not as clear as it should be. There is much evidence, experiential and numerical, to support the fact than many of us do not have a clear understanding of this term. By definition, social justice is a political concept in which all people regardless of ethnicity, gender, religion, etc. are to be treated fairly and equally. Exactly what qualifies as fair and reasonable has been debated for centuries – usually by those in positions of power- illustrating a common problem in many justice systems across the world. But that is a discussion for another day. It is important and necessary to examine the relationship between social justice and sports.

You see, sports travel far past their niche audience, impacting and affecting billions of people across the world. Whether it be Baseball, Basketball, Football (the real one), Golf, or American Football, especially on a professional level, the impact sports have on the world is immense. When athletes such as Lebron James (NBA), Cristiano Ronaldo (Football), or Roger Federer (Tennis) voice their opinions to the public, you better believe the people of the world will listen.

Various athletes have involved themselves extensively in the fight for social justice, whether it has been by participating in protests, voicing their opinions online, or donating to multiple charities. But what I am about to say, please read carefully. This may be a reminder for you, but it may also open a different perspective you have missed out on. The power that sports have can truly impact lives and the influential change they have made and continue to make to social justice must be recognized. Now, allow me to give some contextual background on how sports leave a valuable impression on social justice. We move.

Photo by Jens Mahnke from Pexels

The Media’s Role

Media outlets always offer you multiple lenses to look through when reporting and delivering information. It is up to you to choose the appropriate lens to follow and agree with. Believe it or not, this is the truth; the media and sports share a relationship that cannot be split. While many athletes have voiced their concerns with various forms of media (reporters, interviewers, radio hosts), they both need each other to maximize the value of their brand. But let us shine the light and examine how sports are using their relationship with the media to influence and change the construct of social justice.

What a picture…

Enter Colin Kaepernick. An American football player and civil rights activist, Colin understood kneeling through the US national anthem during a football game would cause some sort of commotion (seriously, this was a big deal). BUT, with the energy and weight that social media carries, the situation was amplified to the maximum. Colin did exactly what he needed to do to make sure his voice was heard – he made people uncomfortable. The state of being uncomfortable forces you to zero in on that discomfort and find a way to make it comfortable. However, social justice has been an uncomfortable topic that justice systems have avoided for far too long. Kneeling during an anthem was one way to attract everyone’s attention so that they hear the message loud and clear.

Do not get it twisted—I understand that kneeling through a national anthem can be seen as disrespectful. But if a country fails to treat people equally, if a country fails to bring rightful justice time and time again and disregards humanitarian rights for minorities, what do you expect? How can you expect everyone to just stand and abide by something they do not believe in?

Truthfully, someone had to do something this monumental to start a domino effect and allow social justice issues to be looked at more closely. The police brutality and blatant disregard for black lives had to be addressed. The first 30 seconds of the video summarizes Colin’s intentions of him kneeling, but I urge you to watch the full video for a clearer explanation.

American football is one of the most-watched sports in the world. Kneeling during a football game on national television is one way to have people pay attention to your message. With the act of kneeling happening on more than one occasion, Colin continued to use his platform to speak up for something he believed in. Kaepernick’s behaviour sparked a new symbol of hope for the people who have been mistreated by America. A small but simple gesture of taking a knee has established the exact definition of what it was intended for; I will not stand for something I do not believe in.

With protests happening all over the world currently, kneeling on one leg has been a frequent component involved. The act originally was looked at as blasphemous by the media but sudden events have changed the narrative around Kaepernick. Seeing how the police chiefs, politicians, and community leaders have adopted the same approach as him, the media want to move towards the “good guy” narrative now for Kap. But where was this energy before? You can highlight a sense of hypocrisy here from the media, with only now providing Kap with the correct attention around his campaign after recent incidents. It is interesting to see how Colin was berated and loved deeply for the same act in a matter of weeks by the media…

Colin Kaepernick with one gesture inspired a movement that has made a positive impression on millions of people. One person started the action, the rest of us are progressing with a reaction. Colin, keep doing what you are doing—the world is paying attention.

Unification At Its Finest

Award shows are a celebration of the work that has been accomplished over a period. The ESPYS are an award show for athletes, happening annually to highlight individual and team achievements regarding sports affairs. At the 2016 ceremony, the world saw something rather special.

The opening segment (you can see in the video above) saw four black athletes coming together and using their platform to address the catastrophic events that took place during the times. The justice system had (still do) failed minorities once again and the mentioning of the names such as Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and so many more illustrated again how the topic of social justice needs to be reviewed. During the speech, Dwayne Wade (NBA) mentioned how “athletes have to come together to do more than what they already do.” There is a general understanding that for real change to occur, athletes speaking up and finding ways to impact the justice system must be a continuous thing. It can not stop after a few days have passed—the conversations must continue. And I am glad to say that four years later, athletes and organizations have kept their word.

Photo by Josh Calabrese

For the sake of time, I cannot name every single organization and athlete who has helped contribute to this cause. But I do have to mention the length of time athletes have tackled social justice issues across the world. We can all look at stories like Muhammad Ali, Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson. These athletes have been entangled with this topic as early as the 1930s. From that period till now, the progress sports have made in social justice has come with one word – unification.

You can never doubt the power of coming together with another and fighting for something you believe in. Remember all the skills that teachers forced us to remember in gym class? You know, teamwork, perseverance, and communication? It still all applies here. Sports teach you how collaboration and unification can always lead to the end goal. The more of us that get involved and act with a sense of dignity, the closer we move to help raise awareness about this seemingly endless problem before us.

Words as much as actions will make a difference in this situation, but one thing is known for sure; athletes across the world have used their presence and platform for the greater good of social justice. I think I can say confidently that the forefathers are smiling down on the ones making a change.

The Journey Continues

So we have seen the progress made by sports, but where do we go from here? How do we continue to show our appreciation for what they are doing? You join the conversation. Keep signing petitions and continue to share links. Yes, we have made progress, but it is not time to stop, we must keep going. The journey continues and along with athletes, we must do our part in achieving social justice across the world. Thanks for reading, share with a friend, and leave a comment on this question below!

What is your opinion on how athletes have voiced their opinions with social justice?


Article references:

Read here for more insight on how teams and athletes are including themselves in fighting against social justice.

Published by michaeloka

A writer that says it how I see it. Here to bring you a different perspective to something that may have crossed your mind. I also want to introduce you to ideas you may not be familiar with and how I feel about them. Here for a long time and a good time.

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