Recently, we lost one of the greatest sportsmen that the world has ever known. Muhammad Ali, nee Cassius Clay, was legendary in the ring. However, he was more than just a sports star. He was an activist. Muhammad Ali became just as revered for his human rights activism as his prowess in the boxing ring. Although, Muhammad Ali’s fists were his most highly regarded attributes. His voice and his ingenuity were not far behind. Ali showed that sports stars have a voice, a powerful voice. Which begs the question, is it now the responsibility of the sports superstar to use that voice? We’re taking a look at the changing role of the sports superstar.
Muhammad Ali was never known for his political correctness. In fact, his lack of it often landed him in trouble. His refusal to fight in the war on Vietnam is a prime example. After refusing to fight on the ground of conscientious objection, Ali was arrested. His boxing licence was suspended by the NYSAC and the WBA stripped him of his world heavyweight title. Three years of his boxing career were lost. Many ask whether it is the job of the athlete to just ‘stick to sports’. Ali thought not.
Now, superstar athletes must decide whether they want to join this category. They could simply sit back on their laurels playing games that give an adrenaline rush like new casinos online, reaping the benefits of fame whilst remaining impartial. Some of today’s sports stars have chosen to take on Ali’s approach of using their fame as a platform for activism. One such example is LeBron James. The Miami Heat star has been vocal on a number of occasions about his feelings on prejudice and police brutality.
In February 2012, Trayvon Martin was fatally shot by a member of a local neighbourhood watch committee aged just 17. Trayvon was African American and wearing a hoody at the time of his death. The digital footprint left behind by his shooting was astronomical. Many took to social media to express disbelief over the racial stereotyping that led to the young man’s death. One of the many outraged was then 27 year old LeBron James.
Le Bron made his views very clear, frequently tweeting with the hashtag #IAmTayvon. He and his teammates even took pictures in hoodies, with their hoods up to show how a prejudice exists which could put any African American in the same situation as Tayvon. LeBron waded in on the issue, likely without approval from his team or his sponsorships. He had a lot to lose.
This is the crux of the issue for many super sports stars. It would appear that you are damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Is it right for sports stars to wade in on issues such as Senate Bill 873 or to engage in philanthropy to highlight problems? Has it now become part of their unofficial job description to engage in these issues and give them a voice?
The truth is that opinions are split. Whilst many people are happy that sport stars can lend credence and publicity to a cause, others believe it is not their place to comment.
It’s undeniable that Muhammad Ali did a huge amount of good by speaking out on issues he believed in. The fact that it also came at a significant personal cost cannot be ignored. There is scope for the role of the sports star to change. Social media has given it a push. However, whether stars will embrace the opportunity is another story.