The United States could use some moral guidance right now.
As the country staggers under the weight of the COVID-19 pandemic, and as crowds fill the street to protest police brutality, it can feel as though our entire world has tipped askew. Usually we look to political leaders during such times, but election season has meant that their incentives are less to bind us together and more to seize an advantage.
Enter professional athletes.
We’ve seen players from the professional basketball world — joined by those in baseball, tennis, soccer and other sports — stand up and raise their voices in support of justice. And while some may argue that these players should stick to sports, right now we’re all looking for courageous words and moral examples.
This isn’t new, of course. Jackie Robinson integrated major league baseball and made a major political point in the process. Basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has been an advocate for equality among races and religions. Billie Jean King coupled tennis with women’s activism.
All three are justly celebrated for their work and words today, but it’s undeniable that they all paid a price for speaking up.
And so it continues. LeBron James has shown that he’s willing to use his own position as one of basketball’s dominant players to force change — not just by raising his own voice but by committing the league to supporting racial justice. Colin Kaepernick is still without a contract, but his simple act of kneeling inspired a new generation.
And we’ve seen entire college football teams speak up this summer, pushing their schools toward taking meaningful steps.
This is all inspiring from one vantage point, and dispiriting from another. It’s inspiring because the battle for justice and equality must continue if the United States is to live up to its promise. It’s dispiriting because we are all so desperate to hear from voices of moral clarity and authority.
Athletes’ examples should inspire us all.
As Abdul-Jabbar wrote just last month: "The only reason most Americans are able to enjoy the weekend off, to go to the park for a pick-up game, to be compensated for a work injury, to have an education, to vote, is because someone, somewhere, got off their couch, cobbled together a crude sign, and waved it in the streets — usually while being beaten for their efforts."