Re:Definition

I’m taking a departure from talking about literary stuff to talk about expectations in pushing the envelope at the expense of comfort, on a non-literary level. This sprang from my previous post about creatives providing platforms of discourse for uncomfortable and/or unpopular topics, which got me to thinking about today’s professional athletes and their overall reluctance to speak out on such topics.

Much ado has been made about a relative lack of pro athlete presence on current events, such as the shootings of Michael Brown in #Ferguson–at least, on a macro, national media level. LeBron James notwithstanding, the days of pro athletes making a public stand pretty much went the way of the dinosaur. There are no more Muhammad Alis willing to speak truth to power at the risk of everything. That candor is usually saved for retirement (a la Kareem Abdul Jabbar), when a pro athlete is free from the shackles of corporate endorsements and fans who only want them to justify the price of a game ticket or player jersey.

In the wake of the Donald Sterling/Los Angeles Clippers debacle, there were those muttering (or screaming) “Why don’t they (all players, not just the Clippers) DO something?!” I was one of them. Turning uniforms inside out to hide the team logo was not enough; we wanted immediate boycotts, we wanted vociferous protest, we wanted gladiator-style drama. We wanted Spartacus. We wanted blood. Even during the Trayvon Martin slaying, James and Dwayne Wade at least appeared on the cover of magazines in a hoodie, with their similarly attired sons. But that was pretty much it. As fans we see players as entertainment only, their value measured by how well they can shoot/throw/dunk/kick/hit a ball, or run, or swim, or skate, and win championships and medals. We don’t care about what goes on inside their brains.

Maybe we should.

Athletes are hardwired for excellence and competition. They are trained from the moment their talent burgeons to concentrate on those athletic skills, for they will being far more riches and notoriety than that mound of grey matter. Even those who end up playing on the college level are encouraged to do just enough to keep them eligible to play, so that they can go pro sooner rather than later. But they are not one-dimensional characters in a video game; they are real people, with real thoughts and emotions. Monetary considerations aside, perhaps the only reason that pro athletes haven’t spoken out on issues is that no one really asks them, assuming (sometimes rightfully so) that they will decline to speak upon advice from agents and managers, so as not to upset the golden goose of endorsements. And of course, the mere thought of players having functioning intelligence will disturb most fans, because it’s easier to buy that ticket or cable sports package when the players are just seen as throwing/kicking//hitting/dunking machines.

Has anyone ever asked Richard Sherman his thoughts on the Ebola virus crisis? Or Madison Bumgardner about human trafficking? Or Kevin Garnett about the controversial pending merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable, and its effect on net neutrality (seriously: I would give a fangirl squeal and pay money for the latter, since KG–as most pro athletes, especially of color–is from the streets, and the streets are where the purest form of anything lives. He would probably break it down in simplisticly deep terms that would render food for thought; the streets ain’t got time for BS.).

Common business leadership advice states that if we treat people as we think they could be, they will rise to that level of confidence and ability. Likewise, if we treat athletes as capable of having independent thoughts and opinions, even when it threatens their comfort, they’ll become more open to giving them.

Thanks for stopping by.

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