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Profit Over Principle: Should Athletes Make Political Statments?

Submitted by on May 6, 2010 – 10:37 am18 Comments

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By the time you read this entry, the Phoenix Suns will have made a profound political statement against Arizona’s soon to be implementation of the controversial immigration enforcement law known as Senate Bill 1070. In game two of their scheduled seven game series against the San Antonio Spurs, Phoenix came out wearing the “Los Suns” jerseys that are worn annually for the NBA’s “Noche Latina” program. The jerseys, worn to knock the controversial laws, is one of the few times professional athletes have used their celebrity to push and pursue a political agenda.

I, personally, am proud Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver took a public stance and his team was willing to follow along, regardless of potential backlash or punishment. But while this is one situation where athletes step out and make a statement, there are many other issues that fall by the wayside because an athletes fear the consequences of speaking out.

For every Muhammad Ali, Roberto Clemente, Arthur Ashe, Tommy Smith and John Carlos, there are a few hundred players that remain politically silent on issues impacting the future of our country and community. I’m not saying every athlete should use their celebrity as a platform on which to speak out on causes they may or may not care about; I’m saying I’d like to see these athletes step out and make a change when the opportunity allows.

If you recall, back in the 90s, Michael “His Airness” Jordan was asked by Democrat and liberal progressive Harvey Gantt, an African-American, for an endorsement when Gantt was running against the late Jesse Helms for a Senate seat in North Carolina. Never mind that Helms was a racist whose conservative views would prove to be damaging for all minorities.  Gantt was simply asking was for Jordan’s endorsement and Jordan infamously responded, “Republicans buy sneakers, too.”

Perhaps if Jordan had agreed  to endorse Gantt, North Carolina would have been spared the senatorial rule of Helms, who was instrumental in bringing North Carolina to its knees with near country lows in infant mortality, manufacturing wages and poverty during his tenure.

LeBron James is also a culprit of an individual who turned a blind eye to a world issue in fear that it would impact his bottom line. When the Sudan situation was labeled a genocide, Cavs player Ira Newble drafted an open letter to the Chinese government and condemned their role in the genocide. Eleven Cleveland Cavalier players signed the letter. Two didn’t. The two were LeBron James and Damon Jones. The paper trail leads to LeBron not wanting to upset the Chinese because of Nike’s huge business interest in the country. Again, it would be profits over principles and the biggest star in the NBA sat idly by as hundreds of thousands in Sudan were killed while 2.5 million others were displaced.

It is the right of the athlete to pick and choose their battles. We may or may not agree with what they do. But keep this in mind…

Muhammad Ali is a legend for far more than his boxing. Anyone can be a great boxer, but Ali will always be loved for his unwavering views and staring down the face of adversity when it could have cost him his entire career. Arthur Ashe is far more than a great tennis player. Roberto Clemente is so much bigger than a baseball player. It’s because of who they are outside of their respective sports that makes them great.

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