Where Is an Athlete’s Place in Politics?

Paul Seyferth, sec10

Over the last several months, the case of Michael Brown being shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, has become probably the most controversial issue in the country currently. After Officer Darren Wilson was not indicted by the Grand Jury, several movements- some peaceful, some not so much– have broken out all across the country.

The following week, 6 players from the St. Louis Rams entered the game with their hands up, which has become a symbol for Michael Brown supporters. Their open support for Brown sparked a massive controversy by those who did not agree with their stance. The St. Louis Police Officers Agency even released a statement, condemning the players for implying that one of their own officers murdered Brown in cold blood.

6 Rams player's doing the "hands up, don't shoot" gesture

6 Rams player’s doing the “hands up, don’t shoot” gesture

This reaction has the St. Louis Rams, not to mention the NFL as a whole, in the light of controversy for the actions of 6 individuals. This also sparks an interesting debate: where does the line get drawn for athletes to voice their opinions?

In my opinion, there are two very clear sides to this argument. I am not here to take either side, simply to analyze both angles and their key points. The first one goes like this: This is America. One of the things that makes America so great is that we have the right to voice our opinions as we please. If those Rams players believed that they should come out and make the gesture supporting Michael Brown, their right to free speech gives them every right to do that. Though they are much more public and influential to the population than average citizens, their opinions have the right to be heard just like anyone else’s. Not to mention, it’s not like the players are advertising for violence or anything illegal for that matter.

            Obviously, the other side of the debate takes a very different approach, and here it is: the Rams players were in the wrong because when athletes put on their jerseys, they represent something more than themselves. Everything those players do while at work is a representation of their organization as a whole. The NFL is a business, after all, and a business does not run unless all of its employees are following the same protocol. The

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, in charge of handing out fines

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, in charge of handing out fines

NFL fines its players for saying things (or not saying things) that they deem out of line, and the Rams players should not be exempt from this policy either.

            The Rams players making this statement heavily relates to what we have been discussing in class the last few weeks. Last week, we read Martin Luther King Jr’s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail”. Dr. King was a strong believer that social change didn’t happen through the use of physical force, but only through nonviolent yet bold forms of protest. King would have been a proponent of the Rams actions, because they were able to make their statement with out causing any physical harm.

As much of the country is on the side of Michael Brown, why don’t we see more athletes coming out in support like the Rams did? Although they did not end up receiving any sort of formal punishment, the backlash from the police and media have probably caused the players to reconsider their actions. This is one example of how risky it can be for players to come out and share their opinions. Last week we also read about how many athletes don’t speak their minds because of the possible consequences that can come along with that. In Kelly Candaele and Peter Dreier’s article “Where are the Jocks For Justice?” they discuss how athletes feel all types of pressure to keep quiet. Firstly, athletes are always looking for endorsements to make more money. Companies tend to “shy away from controversy”, so athletes that like to shine a light on themselves politically will have a tougher time with endorsements. Also, societal reactions are usually negative, and this can even have impacts on a player’s career. In fact, punter Chris Kluwe’s career was never the same once he openly started supporting same-sex marriages.

The 6 players on the St. Louis Rams that participated in the “hands up, don’t shoot” gesture before the game probably didn’t anticipate the storm that came their way afterward. Although they were simply expressing their right of free speech, the fact that it was in their workplace makes it much more controversial. Nonetheless, it is clear that athletes are starting to feel the need to engage more politically, which will inevitably cause more controversy in the future.

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One thought on “Where Is an Athlete’s Place in Politics?

  1. I think it is important for individuals of any kind to have the ability to openly voice there opinions. However, when you represent an organization bigger than yourself, such as an athletic team, you must be very careful. Athletes and celebrities both have a platform to voice their opinion and make a difference, but their circumstances are different. Since athletes represent a team, they must be careful in what they say. Their opinions do not only represent themselves. For celebrities, it is merely their reputation on the line. They should still be careful because it is most likely they will take much criticism for controversial comments, but it is only their reputation on the line.

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