Sports can inspire, serve as agent of change

Kayleigh Fitzpatrick.

Kayleigh Fitzpatrick
Online Editor

“Don’t ask if your dreams are crazy, ask if they are crazy enough.”

It’s a phrase that has been echoing through my head.

It’s from a commercial. It’s the inspirational one, in honor of Nike’s 30-year anniversary of the “Just Do It” advertisement campaign. It’s the one showing athletes competing and overcoming incredible odds: the wrestler with no legs defeating able-bodied opponents; the soccer player born in an African refugee camp starring for Canada’s men’s national team at age 16; the one-handed football player not just making an NFL defense, but starting in one; the homecoming queen that’s also a linebacker; the “girl from Compton” becoming arguably the greatest tennis player ever and the high school basketball phenom turned legend opening a school to better his community.

I’m sure you’ve seen the commercial. The one with Colin Kaepernick.

In 2016, he was the NFL quarterback that kneeled during the Star-Spangled Banner in silent protest of multiple acts of racial injustice throughout the United States. The NFL quarterback that opted for free agency following the 2016 season. The NFL quarterback left without a contract offer.

Now, he’s the NFL quarterback suing the league owners for collusion in refusing to sign him.

He’s the man who sacrificed everything, because he believed in something. He’s the man who forever altered the role athletes play in society.

Throughout its history, sports helped people forget. World Cups united broken, civil-warring nations. Baseball helped America begin to heal after 9/11. The New Orleans Saints marched back into town and resurrected their city after Hurricane Katrina. The story was always the same: sports provided a temporary distraction from reality.

But, occasionally, sports are transformed from a distraction to an agent of change. Athletes like Muhammed Ali, John Carlos and Tommie Smith, Billie Jean King and Arthur Ashe risked their sporting careers to speak out against major social injustices.

Colin Kaepernick reminded us all that this kind of athlete is still possible. As he took a knee, he figuratively made a stand. He reminded the nation — and the world — that professional athletes are more than people being paid ridiculous sums of money to play a game. He freely acted with bravery during the song that reminds us that the U.S. is the “land of the free and home of the brave.”

The U.S. needs Kaepernick and athletes like him. We have an egocentric and embarrassing president who has made demeaning and discriminating against others fashionable. We have a president that outwardly calls journalists, our nation’s truth-seekers, “the enemy;” a president that has a senior member of his administration publicizing that there “are adults in the room;” a president that demands athletes “be fired” for engaging in freedom of expression, the very first “inalienable” right of the United States Constitution.

The racist violence and police brutality that prompted Kaepernick to kneel has continued. In late July, a white man shot and killed an unarmed black man outside a convenience store in Clearwater, Fla., and used the state’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law as his defense. The shooter was arrested nearly a month later by the Pinellas County state attorney, only after that county’s sheriff refused to bring murder charges. On Sept. 6, an off-duty white Dallas police officer mistakenly entered a black man’s apartment, and thinking he was an intruder, shot and killed him. In May, VCU graduate Marcus-David Peters was shot and killed by Richmond Police during a mental health episode.

Sadly, the mounting list of racial injustice could go on and on.

As a transgender woman, I have experienced outward and obvious discrimination: by police officers, by U.S. Customs Agents and by the State Department that recently invalidated my passport. I watched helplessly as leaders of this nation withdrew my rights and protections from Title IX, my access to adequate health insurance and from discrimination by businesses and employers who won’t hire me if they can cite a “religious reason.” Last December, the Trump administration forbade the Centers for Disease Control from using the medical term “transgender” in official clinical documents. The transgender population will not even be counted in the 2020 census. This list too, could go on and on.

Colin Kaepernick is the type of role model all of us should aspire to be, and be thankful to have, particularly in today’s hostile political climate. He took a stand for the ideals this country was founded on, that there should be “liberty and justice for all.” I will be a fan of his forever, because I can relate to him.

I can relate to him because I once had a dream people called crazy. A dream to be my authentic self.

So what did I do? I just did it.

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