Being An Athlete Isn't Just About Playing Sports, And It Shouldn't Be

Stop thinking athletes should just "stick to sports."
Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James warms up before an NBA basketball game against the Brooklyn Nets at the Barclays Center, Mo
Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James warms up before an NBA basketball game against the Brooklyn Nets at the Barclays Center, Monday, Dec. 8, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II) 


After Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones began tweeting about #BlackLivesMatter on Thursday, someone responded by telling the college athlete on Twitter to just "worry about getting us fans another championship..... Stay out of this bullshit." 

Jones quickly issued his own take, and the debate shifted from the issue of African Americans and police aggression to whether, as an athlete, Jones should or should not be able to weigh in on a social issue. 

Jones, a young black man, has every right to speak out on #BlackLivesMatter. He can speak on the 2016 election, he can speak on domestic violence, he can speak on the economy, he can speak on ISIS or the Iran nuclear deal. 

Because the fact is, the moment Jones successfully throws a pass for a touchdown is not the moment he sacrifices his voice.

And yet, so many times, athletes like Jones are told to "stick to sports" or "stay out of politics." 

Running a route, draining threes, serving an ace, winning the World Cup or a NBA championship does not mean that is only thing they should do. If they feel compelled to speak out on societal issues, it should be something that is encouraged and not scrutinized. These athletes are human and are just as affected -- sometimes even moreso -- by many of these topics. Such as Jones, for instance, and many other black athletes who are often subjected to violence and injustice before they reach professional sports leagues.

We should be welcoming the platform athletes have, their own experiences and their ability to connect with people -- using their appeal from their careers -- on a broader scale than many of our own politicians or representatives can. 

Or, alternatively, athletes can connect with a community they've shared similar hardships with, and provide a voice that isn't often seen in the national conversation. Such as Jones, who from Cleveland, Ohio, attended high school just 20 minutes from the elementary school attended by Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old who was fatally shot by a police officer last November.

Or New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony, who joined protestors in April following the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Maryland, where the player grew up. 

New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony, center, marches to Baltimore City Hall to protest the death of Freddie Gray on April 30, 2015. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)


Or Washington Wizards point guard Bradley Beal, who grew up ten minutes from Ferguson, Missouri and knew Michael Brown, the 18-year-old who was also fatally shot by police last August.

All of these athletes have weighed in on the deaths of unarmed black men and women at the hands of police. They should continue to and more should join them, as NBA and NFL players did when they donned "I Can't Breathe" shirts following a grand jury decision last December to not indict a police officer in the death of New Yorker Eric Garner. Or when the St. Louis Rams held up their hands in solidarity with Ferguson.

For many of these athletes, these aren't just headlines, they're something they've seen and experienced firsthand.

St. Louis Rams players raise their arms in awareness of the events in Ferguson, Missouri, as they walk onto the field before an NFL football game against the Oakland Raiders in St. Louis on Nov.30, 2014. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson, File)

But it isn't just the issue of police brutality -- it's racism, it's domestic violence, it's equal pay, it's same-sex marriage, it's gun violence in the inner cities.

It's Khris Middleton taking on the the issue of domestic terrorism and the still very apparent racism in the United States that struck his hometown of Charleston, South Carolina with a massacre at the Emanuel AME Church.

It's Hope Solo, Alex Morgan and Venus Williams speaking on the issue of equal pay for women to their male counterparts, whether in the World Cup, Wimbledon or other professions outside of sports.

It's former heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko leading protestors during Euromaidan against Ukrainian leadership -- a cause that led him to vacate his title and pursue politics in his country

Vitali Klitschko, center, addresses protesters near the burning barricades between police and protesters in central Kiev, Ukraine, Thursday Jan. 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov)

It's Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah talking to his teammates Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson about how they both lost friends to gun violence in Chicago and New York, respectively.

It's Ronda Rousey candidly sharing her take on the unrealistic expectations of women and body image after she posed for ESPN The Magazine's Body Issue and Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit Issue. Or taking on Floyd Mayweather and the issue of domestic violence

Ronda Rousey celebrates after defeating Cat Zingano in a UFC 184 mixed martial arts bantamweight title bout in Los Angeles. Rousey on Feb. 28, 2015. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File) 

It's Jason Collins stepping out as the first openly gay man to play in the NBA and then advocating for same-sex marriage and gay rights

Or Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback William Gay, whose own mother was shot and killed when he was a child by his stepfather, discussing Ray Rice and domestic violence in the NFL.

These athletes push the conversation and inform many people, who otherwise may not know that the U.S. Women's National Team received $2 million for a World Cup title to Germany's $35 million for winning the men's tournament. 

They also serve to hopefully sway public opinion or raise awareness, as Magic Johnson did when many people, prior to the basketball legend talking about his own HIV diagnosis in 1991, simply saw it as a taboo epidemic that only the affected the gay community. 

"There was no better way to demonstrate that HIV is a virus that can attack anyone than for one of America’s most electrifying athletes to acknowledge that he was infected," Michael Specter wrote of Johnson's announcement in the New Yorker last year.

In this Nov. 7, 1991 file photo, Magic Johnson reveals his HIV diagnosis during a news conference in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Craig Fujii, File)

Whether you agree with their positions or not, the voice of an athlete can be an unrivaled platform and perspective, and therefore a valuable one to encourage. It's time to stop thinking athletes' worth are or should be limited to their talents on the field. 

Because believe it or not, someone can knock down a fadeaway jumper and speak up on societal issues. 

Straight Pro Athletes Who Support LGBT Rights