By Brandon Eckles
Every weekend there are countless sporting events that happen, at every level, all over the country. As fans are ushered into these contests, they are greeted by the soothing, yet mysterious voice of the home PA announcer. His or her commands are our fee for the anticipated entertainment, but repetition of these commands forces it to be a mindless reaction by participants. For athletes, this is when they fine tune their preparation and hone in on their focus. These are the last seconds before “the show” begins. Finally, the announcer offers a suggestion to his audience:
“Please stand for the playing of our national anthem.”
At this moment, the masses rise in a patriotic trance. They remove their hats, place their hands on their chest, and look on. With hyper anticipation for the competition finally beginning, some fans’ eyes stray to the field where one thing stands out.
A player kneeling.
This action has been in response to the amount of overwhelming injustice occurring in America. We are at a crossroads in our American history where issues like race and gun violence are as prevalent as they were 40 years ago. These acts of violence and prejudice have been flashed on the morning news in several instances and there has yet to be any solution proposed. These issues have caught the attention of several professional athletes, such as, Colin Kaepernick, who kneels during the national anthem as a form of protest. These athletes we idolize for their talent in their sport are now practicing a new skill as activists and the public is reacting to it.
Activism in sport is something that is not new, but it is being reactivated in light of these incidents. Professional athletes captivate so many with their talents, so why not captivate them with their opinions too?
Social activism in sport does not have to just be at the professional level. All athletes have a platform in front of them that they can use for change. People are jumping on these movements of activism and the thoughts have been planted. So, imagining this scenario playing out at Stagg Field or in Blake Arena is not unreasonable.
Several members of the Springfield College athletic department from administration, coaches, and players offered perspectives on what student-athlete activism might look like on Alden Street, if it were to occur.
Springfield College head football coach Mike Cerasuolo appreciates people that have passion about a topic and thinks that good leaders have to be expressive.
“I think anyone on campus has the right to express. I don’t think anyone wants to hold them back from that opportunity because that is the only way we grow [as leaders]” said Cerasuolo.
The right to express is encouraged on college campuses because for most college students this is where you form your belief system and have the most growth that Cerasuolo refers to. In college athletics, there is an overwhelming amount of expression and passion that can translate to activism.
The passion may not always be welcomed, but it doesn’t have to be and that is okay. Junior Ben Diamond, co-captain for the men’s basketball team, believes there would be two sides to the spectrum for a student-athlete choosing to speak out on social issues.
“The reaction would be mixed,” said Diamond. “It may be positive because seeing a notable student-athlete take a risk would be respected, but it possibly could make people uncomfortable, since it’s pushing the status quo.”
Standing up for what you strongly believe in is scary because the outcome is unknown. Head women’s basketball coach, Naomi Graves, encourages her players to take that risk and express their feelings on social issues because “they are making a powerful statement that makes people stop and think” said Graves.
“It’s good to be invested, to question, and especially in college. I think there is education behind those questions” said Graves, “If you really believe in an injustice, and there are reasons why you believe in it, then, you must take a stand.”
Greg Woods, who is a former student-athlete and active leader on campus, stressed the importance of our student-athletes’ influence.
“It is [of] upmost important for athletes to use their platforms for change. Sometimes we don’t realize how much influence we actually have on other people,” said Woods, who was the president of the Student Athlete Leadership Team committee while a member of the volleyball team.
There is an importance in having a voice because we are at a point in our American history where reaction and action is needed. Graves called this “a teachable moment” and it is. Pairing athletics with social activism is beneficial for positive action because sport unites communities solely on its entertainment aspect.
People watch sports and idolize the talent. Race is much further down the list and Graves believes that, “The beautiful thing about sports is that it bridges the things that our culture tears apart.”
The current trend of athletes standing up for social justice is a noble one. The responses they have can be mixed, but at least there are responses. To fully commit to having discourse, there needs to disagreement. That is how the conversation is started on problems we have in society. Cerasuolo preaches that the hardest thing is starting the conversation. “Once that conversation is started, you can’t stop. If you stop you’ll never have the opportunity to create change.”
Athletes of all levels are noticing the platform they stand on can create that change on issues like social injustice because they influence so many people. Diamond commented on why athletes have this ability at this school by saying, “[Springfield student athletes] have a large influence because people respect the work ethic and determination it takes to be an athlete here.”
Athletes gain the respect of their peers through their performance on the field or court. An audience can be built off that respect and people must take advantage of that opportunity to speak out. Being able to create change and empower people is important. It could be in a small community like Springfield College or in the global community of professional sports. Either way people will listen.