Athletes sticking to sports? No chance. Not anymore.
Sports stars took a powerful stand Wednesday and continued to do so Thursday, protesting racial injustice and police brutality against Black Americans in the United States in the wake of the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The NBA and WNBA have come to a halt. NFL training camps have been paused. And teams across Major League Baseball are sitting out games in acts of mass protest.
Athletes have used their visibility and high profiles to stand up for what they believe in. And while there will surely be plenty still responding by saying athletes should limit their public comments to their jobs and nothing else, athletes have had enough of that line of thinking.
What’s happening right now is too important.
“That's so tired now. I'm not going to give those people the time of day,” White Sox pitcher Lucas Giolito said Thursday, asked about the inevitable reaction from the “stick to sports” crowd. “We're all members of this society. We're all human beings. Me, as a human being, I believe that other human beings in this country should be treated fairly, with respect, shouldn't be afraid of their own police force in their cities. That's pretty much where I'm at.
“I'm not going to argue with someone trying to tell me to stay in my own lane. I'm going to feel comfortable expressing my opinions on things.”
Indeed, Giolito has become more comfortable sharing his own opinions, dating back to earlier this year, when he was outspoken in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. He voiced his support for the Black Lives Matter movement and took a knee alongside several other White Sox players and coaches during the national anthem on Opening Day.
As has been the case with many white Americans, Giolito has been affected and mobilized by the events of this year, forcing him to look at how his experience has been so dramatically different from the experiences of Black Americans.
“I’ve talked about this before, like I had some amount of privilege, opportunity, you name it, thrown my way in life, in this game. And part of that is because of the color of my skin,” Giolito said. “I want to be able to stand alongside my Latin brothers, my Black brothers on this team, in this league. I think that unity is very important.
“In past years, kind of putting the blinders on. Part of that is kind of taking advantage of my privilege, not really having to worry about those kinds of things. Kind of having blinders on, focusing on my own career, focusing on the team, whatever that may be.
“But as things have heightened more and more, it's kind of led me, if I'm just talking about myself, to wanting to educate myself more, wanting to be on the right side of it, which is the side that's pushing for making good changes.”
As more athletes use their visibility to bring awareness to a larger audience, there will undoubtedly be members of that audience who complain that the sports content on their screens isn’t limited to home runs, slam dunks and touchdown passes. But that’s precisely why athletes are bringing attention to these important issues, because there are parts of that audience who, thanks to their favorite athlete speaking out, might be thinking about these issues for the first time.
“Stick to sports” is no longer a possibility. Not now that athletes have powerfully established themselves as not just players but people.
“I think there are a lot of people around the country that are on board and do believe in changing things,” Giolito said. “You've seen protests going around the country for the last few months. Maybe there's something about the spotlight being on athletes, obviously, when we're on the field, on the court or whatever it is, being able to utilize that to bring awareness to real stuff that's going on.
“Colin Kaepernick, when he decided to kneel a few years ago, that kind of took the country by storm. Everybody was talking about it. Now we're seeing other athletes kind of catching on and using their voice, their actions to express how they feel. And it's continuing to blow up and bring awareness.
“Sports, politics, all that stuff. Despite people, how they feel about it, like, ‘Oh, I want to keep it separate.’ Well that stuff's been there for years and years and years.”