A few years ago when I was writing my Morning Joe articles in the Fan Post section, I wrote an article titled "The modern day activist athlete, where have they gone?" The article was inspired by former Buffalo Bills defensive end Mario Williams, when he posted photos of himself on Twitter posing with fully automatic weapons. At the time, the photos were very controversial. This was at a time when the league was under heavy scrutiny, when one of the their star players, Aaron Hernandez, was being accused of murder. Many felt the photos were in bad taste; others felt that Williams was just exercising and protecting his first and second amendment rights.
Back then the basis of the article was whether or not you as fan preferred your professional athletes to be political activist; publicly exercising their constitutional rights, and standing up for what they believed.
I decided to re-introduce this topic again, because I don't believe it got the proper attention the first go around, and what has been going on recently in the news; the passing of legendary boxer Muhammad Ali, the mass shooting in Orlando and the O.J.: Made in America documentary on ESPN. At first glance all three topics seems unrelated, but each of them are more connected than one might think.
In the case of Muhammad Ali, you had a professional athlete who was at the pinnacle of his sport, an iconic figure, who spoke out against an unpopular war and was an advocate for civil rights. When he passed away, he was not only remembered for his great fights in the ring but the fights he had outside of it. On the contrary, O.J. Simpson, one of the greatest football players that ever lived, decided not to have a voice. He decided it was in his best interest not to speak out and address some of the issues that were plaguing the community during his ascent to greatness. Unlike Ali, Simpson will not be remembered for his greatness on and off the field. He will be remembered for being liable of brutally murdering his ex wife and her friend in 1994 and turning his back on the entire African-American community.
As I sit back and think about how the story for both athletes has played out, I can't help but think about how both men were perceived throughout their careers. When Ali's popularity and fame was at its highest he was hated by many; however Simpson was loved by most. Later in life, when both men's popularity was fading and were no longer in the limelight, public opinion changed. Ali was loved and Simpson was hated. Yes, the opinion of Simpson changed once he was accused of the murders, but his story didn't have to end there. What he did with his life afterwards could have change the narrative. However, it became clear that Simpson was more concerned about himself than anything else.
Before I give you my opinion, I want to make it clear that I truly understand the plight of today's athlete. Many grew up idolizing Michael Jordan, the race-less marketing machine of Nike. The man who never once or rarely ever spoke out against human rights. The man who showed them how to make millions and how to steer clear of the trappings of politically charged issues. The man whose only real contributions to society are his $200 shoes.
Going the Jordan route is far more lucrative. You are loved and admired by more and can make more money this way than any other. Being political or speaking out can hurt your brand, cost you money and vilify you in the eyes of the public. I get it. However, I think and believe that these athletes have a greater responsibility than just to themselves. The truth is, many of these athletes are in the positions they are in today because of the sacrifices of the people who came before them, and they themselves must continue to carry that torch. The athletes of yesteryear spoke out and laid the foundation that allowed today's athlete to be as successful as they are. Because of their popularity and fame, today's athletes have a platform to create change or at the very least start the conversation. In my opinion, they have an obligation and duty to look out for the last, lost, least, left out, and the looked over.
There are major issues plaguing our society. Mass shootings, poverty and crime in the inner cities, the violation of rights and civil liberties; the list goes on and on. There is a need for real change. Is it fair to ask or require a professional athlete to be the driver of that change? You know what I think, what do you think? How do you prefer your professional athlete?
Some of you might not have liked the tone or the direction I took in this article. So I'll like to take the time to acknowledge that fact. I've been around here long enough to understand that many of you come here as a means to escape politically charged discussions. Many of you might feel that this isn't the proper forum. I get and respect that. However, there are two facts. One, there are others readers who might like the contrast and may be interested in discussing something other than the usual off season banter. Two, it is the proper forum because the Bills have a head coach that does speeches with presidential nominees. We have outspoken players who make it known what their political affiliations are and where they stand on certain political issues.
I want to make it clear that I don't care what side of the fence these athletes come out on, if they are for or against certain issues, or who they support in the upcoming elections. I don't have any particular agenda I'm pushing or advocating. I just like for the discussion to be had and the issues to be addressed.