Athletics are a spectacle for all to witness. Athletes make impossible feats of human physicality seem effortless. For this reason, they are adored and idolized by many. Fans wear jerseys bearing their favorite players' names on the back and cheer loudly in the crowd when their favorite player catches the game-winning touchdown, or makes that iconic three-point buzzer-beater. The glory and praise from the fans that these individuals get for being star athletes is great; however, this praise is only superficial. All of it ends with them being the only thing people see them as, an athlete.
Today in American society, when we get on social media or turn on the TV in our homes, there is always some type of social issue making headlines. As of late, there have been many heinous acts of police brutality that have victimized the African American community. We all know the recent tragedies of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Jacob Blake. Unfortunately, this list of names is a small reflection of countless years of pain and torment.
In 2016, we saw Colin Kaepernick take a stance against police brutality and racial inequality in America by kneeling during the national anthem before games. This one act of perceived defiance, stepping out of line as an athlete, led to backlash from many people across the nation. Some saw him as “ungrateful” and “un-American,” because he stood for something that he believed in. Kaepernick went from being one of the top-rated quarterbacks in the NFL to never seeing a starting role again. Many had love and respect for him while he was on the field as an athlete, but as soon as he used his platform to combat social issues, that respect disappeared for some former fans. In their eyes, he was only an athlete meant to throw a football and score touchdowns for the team, nothing more, nothing less.
Today, just four years later, we see more athletes using their platform to take a stance against social injustices in America. Athletes are coming together, forming healthy dialogue, and devising new ways to fight oppression. Recently, NBA teams boycotted playoff games in light of the shooting of Jacob Blake. As a nation, we couldn't fathom something like this happening 4-5 years ago. It’s amazing to see that the tide is finally starting to turn. It is beautiful that Black athletes are not being silenced any longer and are using their platform in many powerful ways.
The political action of professional athletics has definitely had a trickle-down effect into the world of collegiate athletics. We have seen many college athletes use their platform to stand against the violence and injustice in America. Some have even stated they will not play if their school doesn’t do enough to support the Black community. Here at Furman, we have had many athletes use their voice and express their feelings toward everything unfair and unjust in America.
As a Furman community, we have done a good job coming together to hold the athletic department and administration accountable for forming a dialogue to discuss the racial and ethnic injustices in America. The football team, for example, came together this summer to take a stand and make a statement on these issues. The players had a discussion with one other and decided to post on social media to support the movement for equality. In this way, they went beyond being athletes and refused to succumb to the just “shut up and play ball” mentality.
There have been good steps forward, but this progress shouldn’t end just because the protests have dwindled. The athletic department should work more diligently to have more socially conscious meetings and events, chances where athletes can voice their opinion on a regular basis. We still have a long way to go, on Furman’s campus and in America. The Black athletes here have so much more to accomplish than just putting numbers on a stat sheet.
They are dominating in the Furman community, not only striving for excellence in athletics, but also occupational and educational pursuits. This should be commended, and with this type of work ethic, drive, and independence comes a voice. A voice that desperately needs to be heard and utilized to its fullest capacity. Furman’s athletic department should be doing more to facilitate black athletes involvement in the community. Also, Black athletes should be using their voice to speak on these issues and many more.
The perspective of the Black athlete is one that has much importance behind it, given that they have had to deal with injustice, bias, and prejudice firsthand. This makes their voice impactful and special during this time of national reckoning. Black athletes go through things that many people couldn’t fathom. These individuals, along with the rest of the Black community, have had to bear the weight of hundreds of years of injustice. However, they have the platform to take a stand and fight against these evils. You can’t view a human being as merely a pawn for your entertainment. If Americans, and Furman fans, are so willing to watch athletes play on Saturdays, they should also be willing to listen to and respect their views and ideas.