By: Zachary Draves
“The 2020 presidential election is around the corner, let’s all mobilize, make the moral choice between love versus hate, let’s do the right thing!” Those words were echoed by the legendary filmmaker Spike Lee at the 2019 Oscars. Anyone familiar with Spike’s work knows he is an avid sports fan.
That message of mass political involvement can be conveyed by Lee and others who have a strong rapport with athletes. The 2020 election has the potential to unleash a new level of civic engagement by athletes and other sports figures never seen before. The reason is primarily due to the recent surge in athlete activism that has emerged over these past three years.
Beginning in 2016, athletes have come of age in the era of social media where their opinions on social and political issues garner as much attention as their successes and shortcomings on the playing field. That year we saw athletes calling on other athletes to take a stand at the ESPYs and elsewhere in the aftermath of the shootings of Philando Castillo, Alton Sterling, and five Dallas police officers.
Later that year, Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem to kick off the NFL season to protest racial injustice. His public stance and subsequent exile eventually catapulted other NFL players such as Eric Reid, Malcolm Jenkins, and Chris Long to utilize their platforms. It culminated in the formation of The Player’s Coalition that is led by the players advocating for criminal justice and police reform.
In the NBA, the players operate in an environment where activism is encouraged by Commissioner Adam Silver all the way down. LeBron James opened up his I Promise School in his hometown of Akron, Ohio in August 2018. Dwayne Wade is publicly supporting the Parkland students in the aftermath of the shooting and the national march that followed in March 2018. Chris Paul is teaming up with Michelle Obama to register as many voters as possible for the 2018 midterms. The Golden State Warriors, especially Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, and their coach Steve Kerr openly taking stands on everything from gun control to immigrants’ rights. Kevin Love and DeMar Derozen spoke up about their struggles with mental illness and advocating for policy change.
The WNBA is doing itself justice by creating the “Take a Seat, Take a Stand” initiative. For every ticket a fan purchases, $5 will be given to an organization that is in partnership with the league towards the empowerment of women and girls and the LGBTQ community. Among the organizations, they contribute towards are Planned Parenthood, Gay, Lesbian, Straight, Education Network (GLSEN), and the It’s On Us campaign to combat sexual assault. Many of the players, including Sue Bird, Layshia Clarendon, Maya Moore, Brittney Greiner, and Imani McGee-Stafford, have taken positions on a variety of issues.
There is an ever growing movement of female athletes pushing for equal pay from their employers such as the WNBA and the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team as they are in the midst of attempting to win their 4th World Cup. Also, Olympic runners Allison Felix, Alysia Montano, and Kara Goucher are advocating for better maternity policies from companies such as Nike that endorse them after they spoke up about their struggles balancing motherhood and athleticism.
Serena Williams has been leading the charge for gender and racial equality in sports and beyond. From demanding fair treatment by officials as she did during last years, the U.S. open to speaking up about the high maternal mortality rate of black women after she endured a difficult pregnancy.
Everything that I have been describing here, such as criminal justice reform, the wage gap, maternity leave, health care, and education has had a profound impact on the sports world. Sports is a microcosm of the real world and therefore, the potential for athletes to make their voices heard in this crucial election is there.
Athletes can have a seat at the table, go on the campaign trail, and encourage millions to vote if they chose to do so. They can do it in their own way and make whatever decision they feel works for them.
In 2020, Athletes have a choice to make, to sit on the sidelines or to step up to the plate.