Magazine article The Progressive

Players Who Stand Up

Magazine article The Progressive

Players Who Stand Up

Article excerpt

One of the most challenging things to explain about the 1960s to young people today is that the most famous and successful athletes happened to be the most political.

The greatest basketball player was Bill Russell, he of eleven championships in thirteen years.

The greatest football player was the very political Jim Brown. Then there was "The Greatest,"

Muhammad Ali--the most famous war resister in U.S. history.

Today, the top athletes in the United States are not seen as changemakers.

We have had moments, such as when LeBron James put up his hood along with his Miami Heat teammates in solidarity with the family of Trayvon Martin.

We also had players such as Kobe Bryant reach out in solidarity when NBA player Jason Collins came out of the closet.

Yet such acts are as fleeting as the tweets upon which they are sent into the world, and tragically as forgettable.

Political actions that matter require long-term engagement and a willingness to make people in positions of power profoundly uncomfortable. Today's star athletes, conditioned by agents and managers to see themselves more as brands than humans, do not want to diminish their ability to move merchandise.

And yet, once we get beyond the athletes whose fame and wealth have ensconced them into a kind of 1 percent status among their teammates, we see an impressive group of players attempting to say something about the world.

The problem, however, is that we are also seeing a backlash---even a blacklist--for those daring to exercise their minds and voices along with their bodies. The list of players who want to be on the field or court, but find themselves at home waiting by the phone, is long.

There are NFL players Chris Kluwe and Brendan Ayanbadejo, who waged very public campaigns for LGBT rights and marriage equality in their respective states of Minnesota and Maryland. …

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