Freedom of Speech of Professional Athletes

Professional male African American athletes are some of the most influential people to young males today. This is because most young males take interest in sports and when watching these professional athletes they are intrigued by the 59 yard pass they threw or the extreme dunk they mastered. Furthermore, amazed by their personal lives such as money and material things, but failing to realize that these same professional athletes are being targeted by hate and racial acts. Professional athletes are told to ‘shut up and do their jobs’ which has become a trend in the eyes of the political community. Professional athletes should be allowed freedom of speech and protest without negativity because they inspire a lot of people (fans), self-sustained individuals and they are also affected by society and political issues.

Athletes have a long history of using their platforms to express their political views and do not intend to stop. An athlete’s identity isn’t solely defined by his or her profession. One athlete in particular who uses his platform to express political views is LeBron James. ESPN ranked him the most famous American athlete and called him “The most powerful voice in his profession”. He is an outspoken athlete, fairly staid social activist, who offers unobjectionable opinions. He continues to speak about police shootings through the eyes of a father of young black males. All of these actions are worthy enough and reflective of only a surface level engagement with the problems the country faces, which will not be solved by general agreement that police should not shoot unarmed black children.

Critics of players protesting injustice are that athletes are not supposed to be political figures. But athletes have historically been front and center during times of perceived social injustice. Several professional athletes have forebears such as Muhammad Ali, Jackie Robinson, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, among many others. In Professor Adrian Burgos Jr. article “Do politics or protest have a place in sports?” he focuses his research on the history of U.S. sports, specifically as it relates to minority participation in sports. Sports have always been political as well as the site of protests. Politics decide whether new stadiums are built, how they are funded and who profits from them. The playing of the national anthem at sporting events was a political decision.

Dating back decades, sports have often been used as a platform to raise larger, more complex issues to a general audience. Especially in recent years, athletes have been willing to engage in conversation and take a stand when it comes to issues that matter off the field. Several athletes have encountered hatred, injustice issues such as police brutality and racial acts. The police brutality experienced by Sterling Brown, a rookie guard for the Milwaukee Bucks, exposes lies and provides a window into how money and fame don’t inoculate black people from racism. Janet Sharp Hermann, in her book “The Pursuit of a Dream”, talks about frightening tales of misery suffered by well-off blacks in the early 1900s. Hermann writes of a black man who operated a printing shop and published a newspaper. He lived in a nice home until a white mob chased his family out of the town and made him sell his home. A black grocer, deserted his business forced to sell it, they refused to allow him to enjoy such nice possession. This demonstrates that successful black people have long faced racism, because their success elicits the fury of white Americans.

Overall, the trending phrase “shut up and do your job” isn’t going to change the political views of professional athletes, particularly when they are voicing concerns on issues many Americans are concerned with themselves. Entertainers and celebrities discuss American politics for many of the same reasons that business owners, service members and religious leaders discuss politics. They are all American citizens with ideas about policies that affect the communities they represent.