Focus on the game. Just compete. Don’t lose sight of your goals. These are likely some of the statements today’s athletes are immune to hearing – most notably when they find themselves in the centre of political action. And to a degree, they are statements similar to the ones which probably compelled Commissioner Bud Selig to hold the 2011 MLB All Star game in Arizona despite the effect a location change might have had on the impending racially charged law changes in the state of Arizona. Major League Baseball had an opportunity to set an example for other professional sport leagues and its athletes had it taken a stand against Arizona state law – a state that Major League Baseball has a vested interest in considering they have a franchise and athletes playing there. Instead, it ignored the efforts of fans protesting the law across the country at several MLB venues and played the 2011 All-Star game in Arizona without as much of a mention of the political debacle.
I cannot help but be disappointed in the athletes and officials who regularly choose this direction of apolitical involvement in sport. While I don’t hold it against those individuals who are in fact apolitical, I do question those who fail to you their position in sport as a catalyst for a greater social change that they believe in (if MLB is such a proponent to civil rights, why didn’t it take this opportunity to prove it?).
In the months ahead, the issues in Russia and their stance against homosexuality is going to be given even more media attention (I hope) as the 2014 Winter Olympics approach. And for athletes, I hope they take this as their opportunity to be a voice for more than sport; I hope they take this stage as an opportunity to be a voice for social change. I’ve heard the argument that Olympic athletes should not concern themselves with Russian politics, and I understand the plethora of reasons for this. However, I know that if I was an Olympic athlete, I’d take more pride in my participation at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics if I voiced my opinion (as a gold medalist or just a participant) than if I didn’t.
Athletes and officials should understand that their involvement in sport leaves a greater legacy when that involvement goes past on field statistics and enshrinement in Hall of Fames. Sport participants with arguably the greatest legacies were those who used that participation as a catalyst for greater social change – Muhammad Ali, Roberto Clemente, and Billie Jean King to name a few.