‘Shut up and dribble’ – Do we need socially active sportspeople?

Ever since Global protests have engulfed many of the major countries around the world, we have seen a significant rise in athletes who are more vocal on their plights and issues going on around them. Whilst their efforts receive a lot of praise, there has also been a fair few critics. With the new generation more likely to speak up and protest, what will happen to old models of quiet sportspeople who let their playing do the talking?

Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford has had a very visible and productive quarantine, campaigning and raising money by supplying 3.7 million meals per week to vulnerable people in the UK.

Rashford had to plead with the government to make a U-turn on their decision. Rashford wrote a 2-page letter to MP’s detailing the benefits and the necessity for this programme which was a key part in his life growing uo.

Marcus Rashford #MaketheUturn campaign helping to feed children over the summer// Source: PA

Rashford being signed to Roc Nations Sports International, Jay-Z’s company elevated his campaign! Roc Nations Sports president Yomark said, “We don’t tell anybody what to say and how to say it, all we do is try to amplify it”. 

With this off-field backing, Rashford was able to get more traction on a campaign that had been ignored. He empowered people to pull together in a way that was breathtaking to see.

Should stars speak out or keep quiet?

Sports stars make visible and behind the scenes movements all the time. They partner up with charities, make donations but also campaign publically and create awareness in the general public. They do it so that a problem is no longer their issue but it becomes everyone’s issue. That’s how you create change.

Lebron James is somebody who has been very vocal on social issues. As someone who came from a poor background in a single-family household in Akron, Cleveland, James fought against the odds and became one of the top 5 basketball players of all time.

With his rise to fame and an enormous platform, he hasn’t shied away from voicing his opinion. Whether on police brutality, civil rights, the disparity in gender payments or education and politics, he has been active. Lebron managed to set up his own public school in Akron to break the cycle of poor education for underprivileged kids and close the attainment gap. Inadvertently his actions have allowed more stars to be empowered to make a change. 

Lebron is a leader on the field and off the field, he has consistently spoken up about racial and political issues, often trading words with Donald Trump.

Laura Ingraham, Fox News host told NBA basketball player Lebron James to ‘shut up and dribble’ when he gave his political opinion on the President. 

Take a Knee

Colin Kaepernick is a former NFL player who in 2016, took the decision to not stand for the national anthem and instead took a knee in form of protest against the oppression of people of colour. His actions still reverberate through the sports world today and in politics. It was a move that divided the nation and brought the issue of race to the forefront again. 

His legacy still remains to be seen in the long run. However, regarding his intentions, he has started a movement that won’t easily go away. In 2017 he was awarded the Mohammed Ali Legacy Award. After being blackballed from the NFL, Kaepernick still continued to stand on these issues and with the backing of Nike in adverts, it became a global issue.

Take a stand

Martina Navratilova is arguable one of the best female tennis players of all-time winning 18 grand slams. From the era of 1975-2005, she was voted as the greatest female tennis player by Tennis Magazine. She was also a trailblazer for gay rights and other causes such as equality and AIDS.

She announced her orientation at the height of her career which could have ruined her career in sponsorships and popularity. She showed that it doesn’t matter what your sexual orientation is and that it won’t overshadow your athletic ability and success.

Martina Navratilova 
Martina Navratilova playing being one of the first openly gay athletes at the height of their career// Source:  1990 Focus On Sport

She helped women in sport embrace fitness and not shy away from going to the gym to gain strength and bulk up. Likewise inspiring a generation of Eastern European tennis players

Navratilova still continues to speak out to make people aware of the issues facing the LGBTQ+ community. Though she can be controversial at times, she still sets the pace in the tennis world with her activism.

There will always be people trying to create a change in this world big or small. Celebrities, sport stars, every day people. 

Everyone has a voice. Everyone has a passion and a cause to fight for. Sports stars like everyone else have freedom of speech. Their voice might be heard louder because of their platform but it doesn’t mean that everyone has to listen. They should be allowed to speak about whatever they choose.

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Jireh Antwi is a writer for the Common Sense Network. He is of Ghanaian descent and has a keen interest in the science field having a Microbiology and Molecular biology degree which he currently uses in his career. Sports and technology are some of his passions, alongside political shenanigans.

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