Like it or not, athlete stands on social issues are here to stay

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Photo courtesy Sporting News

Athletes have a unique opportunity to impact the conversation on the controversial issues of their day. Unlike politicians or other public figures, whose messages on specific issues may get lost in the shuffle of their broader platforms, athletes have a grand audience of all backgrounds that they can address when they so choose.

While I don’t agree that these athletes have a responsibility or a duty to speak up on political and social issues, I do acknowledge that it is well within their rights.

During this year’s NFL preseason, the worlds of sports and politics came head-to-head again when San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick chose to remain seated during the U.S.  national anthem. His actions were intended to spread awareness for what he sees as the oppression of minorities in America, specifically the wrongful killings of minorities by police officers.

Since then, each week it seems more players have either joined Kaepernick in his anthem protest or made an extra effort to visibly stand and honor the pregame tradition. This isn’t the first time that a highly visible athlete has used the platform of sporting events to make a social statement and it certainly won’t be the last.

These types of protests are nothing new. After all, the Olympics Black Power salute of Tommie Smith and John Carlos that has now become the stuff of legend happened clear back in 1968. However, the impact of these stands does vary. In the case of Kaepernick, it seems the national conversation has focused more on him and his actions than the message that he is trying to convey.

In other instances, social protests by athletes have led to tangible change. Just last year, the University of Missouri football team put down their helmets and refused to play after a number of racially charged issues on the campus went largely unacknowledged. Eventually, the president of the university resigned. While the players didn’t see the resignation as the silver bullet to resolving the racial issues, they resumed play having felt their voices had been heard.

I can identify with anyone who has grown tired of hearing about Kaepernick and the other NFL players’ protest. My advice would be to feel free to change the channel, turn the page or keep scrolling through your social media feed. Regardless of any individual’s feelings about these protests, though, athlete stands on social issues aren’t going anywhere. In fact, they will likely be made even more prevalent as the reach of new-age technology like social media and audio and video streaming continues to expand. So as a society, we’d better get used to the idea.