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Professional Athletes Stand Up to Social Injustice

By Jessie Tobin

On Saturday, Sept. 12, tennis pro Naomi Osaka wore a face mask with the name Tamir Rice written across it before winning the Women’s Tennis US Open final. Rice was a 12-year-old-boy that was killed by police gunfire in Cleveland while he was holding a toy replica of a pistol back in 2014. Osaka wore a different name for each of her seven matches to honor different African American victims.  

“For me, just spreading awareness. I feel like the more people know the story, then the more interesting or interested they’ll become in it,” she told reporters from CNN Sports. 

Osaka is one among many professional athletes taking a part in speaking out about social injustice and inequality recently. 

Before the start of the first National Football League (NFL) game of 2020, The Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans linked arms during a moment of silence dedicated to the ongoing fight for equality. During this moment of silence, a rupture of booing filled the Kansas City Stadium from fans, but the teams stood strong and unbothered. 

The NFL is among many of the other professional sport leagues allowing athletes and teams to be vocal on social injustices. 

The NFL is taking a new stance this year, running a season long campaign entitled “It Takes All of Us”. The league said that this initiative is aiming to promote unity across the US and highlight the fight for social justice. Something Colin Kaepernick, former San Francesco 49er’s quarterback, did four years ago when he decided to kneel during the National Anthem. 

“Four years ago, I took a knee to protest against systemic racism and social injustice. It was that day that the number on my jersey would come to represent something greater than football, something greater than me,” Kaepernick wrote Thursday, Sept. 17 in an Instagram post.

“I wish we had listened earlier, Kaep, to what you were kneeling about and what you were trying to bring attention to,” said NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in an appearance on former NFL linebacker Emmanuel Acho’s YouTube show, “Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man.”

In the first week of games other teams in the NFL took a stance by staying inside the locker room during the National Anthem. There were also numerous other players wearing Black Lives Matter gear during their pre game warm up according to an article by The Hill. Cam Newton, the new quarterback for the New England Patriots, wore cleats that had the phrases “7 Shots” and “No Justice No Peace” in honor of Jacob Blake.  

A huge movement took place among several professional sport leagues after the Jacob Blake shooting on Sunday, Aug. 23. Many games and matches were postponed in honor to shine light on social inequality. Players from the National Basketball Association (NBA), the The Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), Major League Baseball (MLB), Major League Soccer (MLS) pulled back from playing in order to help those whose voices are not being heard. 

Earlier this summer, NBA approved 29 different social justice phrases that players can choose from to display on the back of their jerseys. Of the expected 350 eligible NBA players, 285 picked a message to put on their jerseys, Michele Roberts, National Basketball Players’ Association executive director, said in an interview on ESPN’s The Undefeated. According to an article from The Washington Post, the two most popular choices of the phrases available were, “Black Lives Matter” and “Equality”. 

“The players have taken this seriously with what they’re going to put on their jerseys, understanding that they were going to have a platform giving a message to a wide variety of people,” Roberts told The Undefeated. “Given the large number of guys that are participating, I think these men appreciate that this is a chance to do exactly what they wanted to do. Keep the conversation going.”

Professional athletes and league coordinators are now seeing the impact that players can have on the public. Player associations are making it clear that players and teams are not going on strike or boycotting games by not participating. Athletes more than ever recently are using their platforms to amplify their voices and to hopefully help make a difference.

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