Charlottesville Shows We Need LeBron & Athletes Not to Stick to Sports

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LeBron James and other athletes have taken criticism for speaking out on social issues.

The most powerful athlete in America took time during his foundation’s event to address the recent Charlottesville tragedy. LeBron James implored the country to ask what each of us could do bring about change.

“I know there’s a lot of tragic things happening in Charlottesville,” James told the Associated Press. “I just want to speak on it right now. I have this platform and I’m somebody that has a voice of command and the only way for us to get better as a society and for us to get better as people is love. And that’s the only way we’re going to be able to conquer something as one. It’s not about the guy that’s the so-called president of the United States, or whatever the case.”

His comments will be widely panned by the stick to sports crowd. As our country becomes increasingly divided, #sticktosports has become a popular hashtag on social media any time an athlete chooses to weigh in on social issues. Which begs the question, if some of the most influential people in our country do not have the right to voice their opinion, then who does?

Often times, #sticktosports really means, “I disagree with your opinion”. The point of our country has never been agreement, but has always been discourse.

Former NFL tight end Jermichael Finley took to Twitter to encourage athletes to “leave personal opinions about race and politics alone”. The tweet has since been deleted, but 247 Sports captured the full tweet. “Athletes are looked up to & serve as roll models, leave personal opinions about race and politics alone. Do what you get paid to do & play,” Finley wrote.

Finley may have used anthem protests as a starting place, but his view is one shared by many fans. As Martellus Bennett pointed out, if athletes are excluded from voicing their opinions, what professions make the cut?

“It’s like saying, ‘You’re a doctor, you have no opinion; you’re a teacher, you have no opinion. You’re a truck driver, we don’t care what you’ve got to say,’ ” Bennett told the Wisconsin State Journal. “Or, ‘You’re a reporter, why the [expletive] are you writing something about politics, you should stick to sports.’ It makes no sense. … A lot of guys have been programmed for so long that we have to reprogram the youth so that they can think differently.

Our nation would be well served to take a page out of a sports playbook where success has never been determined by race, religion or sexual orientation. It has always been dependent on a group of people deciding to put their differences aside for the sake of a common goal. For all of its potential ills, the locker room has consistently been a display of diversity in all of its various forms.

Qualifiers like liberal and conservative are used to distance ourselves from one another. When James and other athletes speak of a different way forward, we would be wise to listen regardless of what they do for a living.

Days after thousands of men marched on a college campus to spew words of hate, we need as many people as possible speaking out against hate in all forms. The stakes are too high to simply stick to sports.

May athletes remember these words from Lady Liberty, and exercise their rights to speak up when we are not living up to our own ideals.

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

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