By Ken Reed

We live in a volatile political climate. The country has likely never been more divided on political issues — well, since the Civil War, of course.

Donald Trump didn’t start the divide in this country but he has certainly revved it up with his inflammatory rhetoric.

As the country has become more volatile when it comes to social, cultural and political issues, more and more Americans — from all backgrounds and across the political spectrum — are speaking out.

The same holds true in SportsWorld. This hasn’t always been the case. For decades, athletes seldom took a stance on political, social and economic topics of the day. They were expected to play their games and provide a diversion from the real world for their fellow citizens.

Of course, there have been well-known exceptions like Bill Russell, Billie Jean King, Curt Flood, Dave Meggysey, Jim Bouton and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to name a few.

But, for the most part, athletes have followed the maxim “Stick to sports.” In the Trump Era, that’s no longer the case.

As sports columnist Dan Wetzel recently wrote:

“Instead, with Trump, they are engaged, enraged, empowered and encouraged. Athletes not sticking to sports may prove to be one of the unlikely legacies of his presidency.”

Following the Charlottesville ugliness, Trump claimed there were “some very fine people” involved with Klansman, white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville. David Duke, former Imperial Wizard of the KKK, along with other white supremacists, applauded Trump’s response. They moved on from Charlottesville emboldened in their efforts.

Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James followed up by saying, “Hate has always existed in America … but Donald Trump just made it fashionable again!”

It was a bold comment, one rarely heard coming from a big-time professional athlete. It wasn’t that long ago that Michael Jordan refused to say anything regarding political topics of the day for fear it would hurt his Nike shoe sales.

The “stick to sports” philosophy for athletes has never really made sense anyway. Wetzel nails it here:

If someone can only discuss subjects related to their profession, then political talk is left to whom … pundits and the unemployed? The people shouting at athletes to stick to sports don’t stick to only discussing their careers. A couple years back Trump was a businessman and reality TV star. He certainly didn’t stick to anything. He became president. That’s America. As always, everyone in the country has the right to speak about whatever they want, just as everyone else has the right to view them, or their affiliated businesses, for better or worse because of it. There is freedom of expression in this country, but also a professional risk in speaking out. That’s just reality.

In a growing culture of hate, we need everyone to work toward a society based in love and driven by respect for fellow citizens. That includes athletes.

And those in the “resistance” movement need to protest racism, injustice and white nationalism peacefully. They would be well-served to follow the non-violent playbooks of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi.

“It’s about us,” James said.

“It’s about us looking in the mirror. Kids all the way up to the adults. All of us looking in the mirror and saying, ‘What can we do better to help change?’”

What can you do?

Following the Charlottesville mess, former president Barack Obama tweeted out a famous Nelson Mandela quote. The tweet has become the most popular tweet ever. More than three million people have liked the tweet.

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love … For love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

I believe that’s true. And it gives us hope. But it’s not going to happen if we all sit quietly bunkered up in our homes practicing avoidance behavior.

Stick to sports? No more. We need an active citizenry, one driven by the Golden Rule. Everyone — including high-profile athletes — needs to get involved in an effort to heal and unite the country.

For as Abraham Lincoln once said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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