Occasionally, there is an athlete who captivates fans through exceptional skill within their sport but also by standing and calling for social justice. In the 20th century, athletes such as Muhammad Ali and Jim Brown were prominent figures for promoting social change and justice. In 2020, the names that come to mind instantly are LeBron James, Lewis Hamilton and Colin Kaepernick. Although they have accumulated large financial wealth due to their respective talents, they each seem to have a connected thread to social issues across the world.
Lewis Hamilton, in particular has been a shining light within Formula 1. As the only black driver in the sport, Hamilton has been courageous in his support for the Black Lives Matter movement. Hamilton has dominated the sport for over a decade and currently has six Formula One titles to his name. Outside of the racing track, Hamilton is now working towards providing greater opportunities for underprivileged communities.
Lewis Hamilton has announced the creation of the Hamilton Commission, in partnership with the Royal Academy of Engineering. The aim of the organisation is to explore how motorsport can be used as a vehicle to engage more young people from Black backgrounds with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects and ultimately, employ them in engineering sectors. This is an ambitious target but definitely something which is both important and relevant in 2020.
It is also a positive initiative which shows the importance of STEM subjects and why creating that engagement, especially for young people from Black backgrounds is valuable. LeBron James has also invested in education for young people from underprivileged communities by establishing the I Promise school in 2018.
Seeing athletes with such large stature supporting real issues is proof that athletes can still use their platforms as advocates for change. Hamilton and James are following the blueprint from athletes such as Muhammad Ali, who some could argue made an even greater impact through his social activism than what he achieved in the boxing ring.
Amplifying The Need For Social Change
In the era of social media, athletes have a great deal of power to speak about topics which they ultimately care about. This was shown by Marcus Rashford, who used his social media to campaign against a UK government decision not to provide free school meals for kids during the summer holidays. Of course, short term initiatives can be effective but to create sustained change there has to be a framework set in place, which Rashford and his team are currently working on.
Lewis Hamilton has also used his instagram page to amplify his voice and push the Black Lives Matter movement forward. During the Sky Sports interview below, Hamilton explains his views on social issues and what changes he believes need to be implemented.
Athletes who have millions of followers on social media platforms are continuing to rally behind social justice causes and look to spark change. Naomi Osaka, the 22 year old who recently won the U.S Open tournament, made a public statement by wearing masks which featured the names of victims to racial injustice. Osaka, who previously was known for being relatively shy and soft spoken to the public, decided to shed light on racial injustice using a big platform to do so. Although she received some backlash, it again demonstrates the power which professional athletes have to be a spokesperson for complex issues within society.
The NBA has also seen players using their platforms in order to incite change. With star power comes leverage and NBA players exercised this when deciding to boycott several playoffs games in August 2020. This move was supported by certain parties but also raised eyebrows. NBA Champion and current Miami Heat player Andre Iguodala, used the medium of journalism to discuss activism in the NBA. You can find his Q & A piece with The New Yorker here: Activism and the NBA.
Activism and sports have been tied together for over fifty years. Today, athletes have a platform to connect instantly with fans via social media, where they can shed light on what they deem as important.
In our society, professional athletes are looked at as role models to different communities, therefore using their platforms to speak up on social issues is applaudable.
This article was originally posted The Final Whistle, Sports Pundit writer, Omari Coates' own personal sports blog.