Press Box: Athlete activism puts criticism to rest

Adam Cheek 
Staff Writer

In light of the midterm elections, it is more necessary now than ever to cease political criticism of athletes and acknowledge what they do for others, focusing on the good they do for the community.

Former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s now infamous action of kneeling came as a compromise between him and Nate Boyer, a former Marine and long snapper for the Seattle Seahawks. While the criticism surrounding the protest has died down, it is important to recognize what good Kaepernick and his foundation, as well as numerous other athletes, have done for those less fortunate.

This specific reform reaches far beyond vitriolic debate — the on-field protests, while symbolically powerful, pale in comparison to what certain players do with their paychecks and contracts.

One of the most prevalent examples of this activism-beyond-symbolism came in the form of LeBron James opening his “I Promise School” just prior to his move to the Los Angeles Lakers. James, having criticized President Donald Trump in the past, was slammed by some out of spite for what he had previously done — as opening a school for at-risk youth is a very hard action to slander.

James’ school is a public elementary school located in Akron, Ohio. Brought to fruition by the LeBron James Family Foundation, the initiative provides services including bikes for every student, food for the families, transportation and free tuition to The University of Akron.

The reactions to James’ opening were mostly positive, especially given the aim of the school itself. However, due to James’ racial identity and past criticisms of the president, some felt it necessary to put down his generosity and blast him without much backup.

This criticism presents a double standard. Criticizing someone due to their political stance is one thing. Anyone can find fault in politics. Everyone has a different viewpoint and to disagree is to express your inalienable rights, as Kaepernick did.

However, almost anyone can agree that providing services to at-risk youth is an important cause. It is difficult to fathom anyone being critical of someone helping those children. But someone hating James’ school just because of political views is, unfortunately, not surprising in this social climate.

Numerous NFL players also penned an op-ed in mid-2018 requesting the president institute prison reform. They referenced the conditions facing minorities in prison and the disproportionate amount of minorities imprisoned for petty crimes — which stand as foundational examples of the institutionalized racism Kaepernick and other NFL players initially knelt to protest. Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins and his teammate, defensive end Michael Bennett, are among the NFL players who continue to carry the flag for Kaepernick, who has been blackballed from the league.

Fox News host Laura Ingraham criticized James months ago for his political comments, telling him to “shut up and dribble.” However, when paralleled side by side with what some professional athletes – especially James – have done to help communities, underprivileged children, or any other group in need in between, this vitriol is left in the dust of their actions.

Athletes can do much more than dribble, pitch or run the ball – when they utilize their societal presence for good, it shows just how influential the sports world can be. What those individuals do is for the good of the general populace — the outcome is a positive one, and drawing needless criticism further veils the positive impact.

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