When Athletes Use Their Voice

athletes have a political voice

Social media has given power to an athletes voice, and many like Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving aren’t afraid to use it

I started my journalism career working in sports, not only because of a love of the action, but because the idea of covering real tragedies and politics seemed like a heavy burden I didn’t want to bring home with me every night.

Despite my attempt to avoid real world issues, they are unavoidable. Death, tragedies and bad decisions happen no matter where you hide. Ray Rice. Adrian Peterson. Rae Carruth. Leonard Little. It’s a long list.

I covered Dale Earnhardt dying on the track, Walter Payton dying too young from liver disease and Darryl Kile dying of a heart attack mid baseball season – I’ll never get used to that part of the job.

Lately we’ve had a different occurrence, the sports world pulling real world issues inside their protective bubble.

St.Louis Rams players protesting the decision not to indict in Ferguson, MO isn’t the first time athletes have spoken up, but in this era of social media this topic quickly became the sports story of the week. Charles Barkley weighed in and Kenny Smith retorted, Magic Johnson tweeted, Mike Ditka went on the radio, Serena Williams expressed outrage.

Not long afterwards, a handful of high profile NBA athletes donned “I can’t breathe” T-shirts for pre-game warm-ups, quoting Eric Garner’s last words before being choked to death by a New York City police officer.

I for one think athletes leveraging their reach and expressing their true feelings is a wonderful byproduct of terrible circumstances. For too long athletes have remained silent behind the veil of a team first mentality while hiding from their voice.

when athletes use their voice

St. Louis Rams players received criticism for their “hands up, don’t shoot” silent protest, but it sparked continued conversation about the issues facing our country

But we aren’t there yet.

Tom Brady, a man emulated and admired by people of all ages, when asked his opinion on Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson deferred saying, “I certainly have a lot of personal feelings toward all those things, but it’s just, there’s nothing I can do.”

I wish he would have said something, even just,”If these events are proven true, they are despicable acts and I hope they are punished to the full extent of the law.” Would that have opened him up for criticism? Maybe. But it also would have leveraged the power of his status to reach people who need reaching.

Right now we are talking about, rather than hiding from, the Eric Garner and Michael Brown cases because protesters and public figures like LeBron James have kept their story alive.

That can’t be a bad thing.

Athletes need to understand their words have more power than most, and they can evoke change or at least discussion. I’m glad that more athletes are wielding this power, as long as they do it responsibly.

What do you think when an athlete has a strong opinion on a real world subject? Lets us know in the comments below!

About Brian Clapp

Brian Clapp has worked in the sports media for over 14 years as a writer, editor, producer & news director. After beginning his career in Atlanta at CNN/Sports Illustrated, he switched coasts to Seattle to work at Fox Sports Northwest. In 2010, Brian began pursuing a new found passion on the digital media side, launching a successful website and then taking on the role of Director of Content for WorkinSports.com & WorkinEntertainment.com.

Recently, Brian has become addicted to Google+ and LinkedIn so add him to your circles and make him a contact. No seriously, do it.

And if you want to know where our privacy policy is before you submit your comments below, it's right here.


  1. Mr Clapp I agree 100% and think your position on this issue could be stronger. Professional entertainers (including athletes like LeBron James and pseudo-athletes like Tiger Woods) have an opportunity to effect change in this world and while it’s not their duty it certainly would be nice to see more of them wield the power of their privilege for the betterment of their community and society in general.

    • Hank always good to hear from you! The only reason I walked the line a little and didn’t come out more declarative is because I know not all athletes are responsible with their voice (or all that smart (John Rocker comes to mind)) and often speak without thinking. But, I like it when the smart ones make thoughtful commentaries and spark discussions which is why I felt compelled to pen this quick perspective piece. Thanks for being here Hank!

  2. Amanda Morton says

    I also agree. It’s beautiful to see people standing up for what the believe and doing it gracefully. So many times these topics are avoided in the work place and I think that it does start the conversations. I find it sad that so many people work to mute their voices. From the NBA trying to hide the Lakers shirts (which I first hand experienced) to the NFL and how they are handling the Ram’s players who choose to voice their stance.