From the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin in 2012 to the inauguration of President Donald Trump this year, American professional athletes have made significant efforts in recent years to make their voices heard.
However, the influence of athletes in response to current events reflecting the issues of our time is perhaps underestimated, especially in a society that idolizes professional sports.
Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black man, was fatally shot by a white police officer named Darren Wilson on Aug. 9, 2014. Days later, Wilson was acquitted, which led to significant unrest in Ferguson, Missouri. Five players of the NFL’s Saint Louis Rams roster came out to their field walking together with their hands in the air in order to salute the protesters of Ferguson in the aftermath of Brown’s killing, which they perceived as another murder of an innocent young black American.
This year, the NFL regular season was characterized by similar actions on the behalf of a wider group of its players. In the first game of the San Francisco 49ers’ regular season, quarterback Colin Kaepernick decided to take a knee during the presentation of the National Anthem. Kaepernick’s actions on this day led many NFL players from other teams to follow in his footsteps and stand up for an issue perceived to be still very prevalent in American society. In doing so, the players’ message coming live from the field in which they play every week, was viewed on television screens and media sources around the country.
The NFL estimated in 2014 that the average NFL game gets approximately 17.6 million viewers and counted 205 million different Americans to watch at least one NFL game, proving the extent to which professional sports are an intrinsic part of American society today. By displaying powerful messages on the field they play on, athletes have the power to influence the stance held by the average American viewer that loves the sport and idolizes its athletes.
Today, athletes are taking current political matters into their own hands off the field. Due to the unpopularity of Trump’s political agenda, six members of the 2016 New England Patriots Super Bowl winning team have decided to not go to the White House visit. It is a yearly tradition for Super bowl winning teams to visit the president at the White House. This year players are deliberately choosing to not attend this ceremonial event in order to convey a fundamental disapproval of Trump’s administration.
Stephen Curry, the super-star point guard and NBA champion of the Golden State Warriors, signed a contract to exclusively market products for the American sports brand Under Armour through 2024. According to Morgan Stanley research, Stephen Curry is worth an estimated $14 billion to the brand.
His value as a player can also be perceived by the economic asset he represents for one of America’s largest sports companies. Earlier this month, Kevin Plank, CEO of Under Armour, referred to Donald Trump as a “real asset” to the U.S.
Sarcastically, Curry responded by saying he agreed with Plank’s statement “if you remove the ‘et’ from asset.” The decorated point guard followed his response to Plank’s comments by confronting the company head on regarding their stance on the current president.
Currently, Curry’s response to Under Armour’s stance on the election has led to backlash against the company that since has distanced itself from endorsing Trump to the extent that they did. The company has struggled financially in the past fiscal year with a stock price that dropped from $83.69 in February 2016, to $21.81 this past Friday, March 10. Curry exemplifies the extent to which professional athletes can use the value they earn from performing in the sports world to influence those at the top.
Unprecedented leadership through Trump’s newly established administration, along with current events illustrating the most serious social issues of our time, has led athletes to utilize their power in order to voice their frustrations with a current system perceived by many to be unjust. By using the basketball, the football field or even their estimated value to an organization they belong to, athletes have been able to voice off opinions and influence the political ideals of a multi-faceted citizenry.