Press Box: President Obama, Colin Kaepernick and real “locker room talk”

Illustration by Jiaqi Zhou
Illustration by Jiaqi Zhou

The recent montage of social activism in the sports world has sparked national conversations about socially relevant topics. Meanwhile, the political battlefield is strewn with vulgar mudslinging.

Football Sundays have become a platform for social activism and political conversation. Sports broadcasters banter passionately about the widespread social injustice in our country and how to best speak out against it.

In contrast, at last week’s circus of a “presidential debate,” Donald Trump vehemently denied allegations of sexual assault. Trump also labeled his vulgar comments from a recently-released 2005 recording as “locker room talk.”

This label suggests Trump’s attitude and vulgarity are somehow synonymous with athletic culture.

Illustration by Jiaqi Zhou
Illustration by Jiaqi Zhou

At a time when athletes such as Colin Kaepernick are the face of social change and political activism in our country, this interpretation of athletic culture is egregiously arrogant.

The inherent culture of athletics is widely conceptualized as being rooted in patriarchy and stupidity.

Sports are not an inferior intellectual pursuit.

Athletes are intelligent, socially-aware human beings who are leading the conversation surrounding the need for social change in this country right now, and their voices are making more of an impact than ever.

In southeast Texas, young athletes are contributing to the conversation. The Beaumont Bulls senior football team, comprised of 11 and 12-year-old kids, have kneeled during the national anthem before every game this season, in spite of death-threats and public scrutiny.

In an interview with BleacherReport, Jaelun Parkerson, an 11-year-old sixth-grade running back on the Bulls, said the team wanted to be part of Kaepernick’s protest against injustice.

“Since Colin Kaepernick took a stand, we wanted to do the same,” Parkerson said. “We wanted to stand against racism and injustice.”

Even young athletes are joining the conversation and setting a better example than the two people chosen by their respective political parties to represent this country on a global scale. Not only can athletes spark a national conversation by engaging in simple peaceful protest, they can influence political campaigns by exercising their voice.

Cleveland Cavalier’s star forward Lebron James recently endorsed presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. This move has already done wonders for Clinton’s polling numbers in the hotly-contested swing state of Ohio.

President Barack Obama reinforced this belief in the power of athletics in a visit to the nation’s largest historically black university, North Carolina A&T University, last Tuesday.

Obama engaged in a town hall meeting with students where he discussed athletes and activism. The event was hosted by The Undefeated, a sports journalism organization, and aired on ESPN.

Obama said he hopes the recent trends toward activism will expand so that athletes commit themselves to speaking out against a wider array of social injustices.

“How you do it is less important than your commitment to use whatever platform you have to speak to not just issues of racial injustice,” Obama said, “but to speak to issues of discrimination against Muslims or sexual assault on college campuses or a whole host of issues.”

Obama urged students, particularly student-athletes, to engage in activism in all walks of life. He spoke about the importance of community engagement in response to a question from Sam Hunt, a junior on the A&T basketball team.

“The ability for you to mentor some kid who lives right around here, maybe he doesn’t have a Dad, doesn’t have a lot,” Obama said. “You paying attention to him and you’re a star guard on your team, you taking him to a ballgame and asking him how he is doing in school – that is revolutionary.”

Athletes, not politicians, are the leading voices of revolution in this country right now.

From contentious arguments over national symbology to simple community engagement, this is the attitude permeating athletic culture right now – this is real locker room talk.


Zach Joachim. Photo by Julie TrippZach Joachim
Zach is a junior pursuing a dual degree in print journalism and English. A proud Norfolk-ian, he enjoys long walks on the beach, English literature of the romantic period and anything pertaining to Harry Potter or baseball. Zach an avid Red Sox and Patriots fan who can usually be found working at the Student Media Center or running along the James.

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