Stop telling athletes to "stick to sports"

Stop telling athletes to

Photo illustration CW / MK Holladay

Politics and sports are no longer separate entities. Now more than ever, athletes are using their platforms to address issues that they feel passionately about. Football players, specifically, have used the overwhelming media coverage of their performances as a means to get their messages across.

Anthem protests, athletes’ use of social media and a certain speech by Donald Trump in Alabama regarding Colin Kaepernick have all  prompted athletes to find their place in political issues. They are starting to show that they are not defined by the sport that they play. 

As athletes have become more and more outspoken, there has also been a tangible increase in people who feel their football experience is ruined by these athletes being outspoken. The average, faceless user on Twitter will constantly harass athletes who give their opinions on current issues. 

It usually comes with a short, typical response. Three words that diminish athletes to nothing but the sport that they play. Three words that show that sports fans see them as nothing more than a source of entertainment, and not as a whole person.

“Stick to sports.”

Anytime you see an athlete, coach or sportswriter voice their political opinions, this is the response from so many. It’s a condescending attempt to not only criticize their stance, but also, to attempt to define them by the profession they have chosen.

The first instance of this that I saw personally was during one of the 2016 presidential election debates. Alabama running back Damien Harris tweeted his disdain for the Donald Trump during this particular debate. Floods of predictable tweets came at Harris, telling him to “stick to football,” or “stick to sports.”

As someone who has been around Harris enough to know what kind of a person he is, these responses were not going to stop him. Harris, like many Alabama football players, is a very intelligent college student who has refined opinions about a wide range of issues, one who takes the time to decide his stance in an intelligent manner. 

The responses to Harris’ tweet show that these kinds of football fans know nothing about the person inside of the pads, and don’t care to. “Stick to sports" suggests that Harris is nothing but a football player, one who doesn’t deserve to voice his opinions.

For players like Harris, football is often a stepping-stone to a better life. For professional football players, it’s their job. It is not who they are. Harris and other Alabama players are not just football players, they are people. They should be allowed to voice their opinions on political issues.

If you tell an athlete to “stick to sports,” then you should also always tell an engineer to “stick to engineering,” or an accountant to “stick to talking about H&R Block,” if they speak out about politics. No one else is defined by their profession, so why should athletes be held to this standard?

The “stick to sports” response is nothing but an insulting way to make athletes feel like they are less than what they are. Football players deserve the right to feel a certain way about an issue. They deserve the right to tell people about their opinions. Like everyone else in the United States, they deserve the right to use their platforms to not only let their voice be heard, but to try and cause tangible change in the country that they call home.

Moving forward, we should celebrate athletes right to use social media to speak their minds. We should celebrate the athletes being candid. We should be appreciative that we have a class of opinionated, intelligent athletes that are not going to back down. 

After all, hearing their opinions allows us to become closer to them as people. As someone who constantly talks to athletes and attempts to pick apart their brains, I can tell you that learning about them is one of the most rewarding things you can do as a sports fan. Even if you don’t agree with what they are saying, just knowing that they care enough to speak out should be something this country celebrates.

So, don’t stick to sports, athletes. If you have an opinion, say it. Athletes give their all to make sports fans happy, and in turn, we should celebrate them as the multifaceted people that they are.

Matthew Speakman is the sports editor of The Crimson White. 

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