Off the Beat w/ Marc Lacy: Minority Athletes & Social Issues

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Since day one, minority professional athletes have been pressed to take action on a myriad of social issues from welfare, misappropriation of funds, academic bankruptcy, domestic violence, police brutality, and racial discrimination just to name a few. Any big name in sports has been under a powerful microscope when things happen (especially negatively) in the community.

Athletes from various eras and different sports have had their names tossed around freely in hopes that they would take some sort of stance against social injustice. From Jack Johnson, Jessie Owens, to Muhammad Ali, Williams’ sisters, to Arthur Ashe, Walter Payton, Michael Jordan, to OJ Simpson and the list is just endless.

And you can bet your last paycheck that there’s always someone in the community who is willing to go all out in calling out any athlete who they feel is not being vocal or supportive enough in tackling important social issues. Mind you, the person calling them out knows what they know; but of course they don’t know what they don’t know.

Meaning the athlete could already be involved in a less-publicized effort to tackle a certain social issue; but the fact of the matter is that it is unknown until it is known.

Cities like Atlanta are full of minority professional athletes who are in the public eye almost 24/7. And there is always that extreme mixture of magical celebrity status along with the demand for social activism all because a person is very popular.

Along with that, there is the realization that a person will not have celebrity status forever, but needs for the community will never go away. So when people and organizations flag these athletes down in an effort to get their attention to support a cause, is it ever taken `into consideration that they (athletes) are bugged all of the time about donating money and resources toward a myriad of causes?

Are people just thinking about the purported need only, and not about establishing a genuine connection with the athlete? And just how do they expect the athlete to respond to someone or an agency who doesn’t know them (personally) from Adam’s house cat? If the response happens to be negative, will the athlete’s name get smeared on social media? If enough people make it trend and it goes viral, could that same athlete have their contract voided as well as lose endorsements?

See, the aforementioned is just a small snapshot of the dynamics that come into play when people make demands that athletes support social causes…right, wrong, or indifferent.
Athletes are going to naturally be wary whenever they are contacted about lending money and/or support. Even if they have a foundation, accountability and proper accounting still must be established.

One big reason for the caution is the fact that they probably have several relatives who have contacted them previously for support in numerous issues related to family. With that, they certainly have to ascertain a person’s genuineness or lack thereof. Let’s face it, despite all of the constant needs in the community, there are some folks who do not have positive intentions. Yes, there are some very angry people in the community who are angry for numerous reasons. And instead of addressing the issue(s) head on, they may decide to be angry at a celebrity for not donating or supporting a certain cause…and/or to the level of expectation.

Some people are not resting comfortably unless they are chastising and/or harassing someone who purportedly has it “better” than them. In essence, if it appears one is successful, it is somehow their fault that there are negative things going on in the community.

Regardless of the amount of money, time, and resources an athlete may give, there will always be someone who is permanently dissatisfied, and wants nothing more than to put that person and anyone else in the way, on blast as issues fester in the community.
With minority pro athletes receiving a combination of normal scrutiny from sports analysts per their performance on the court/field, and from certain figures within the community regarding their efforts therein, how should parents coach their children (who aspire to play pro sports) on social activism?

What gauge should be used to measure the amount of time they spend focused on social issues in comparison to that which is needed for them to remain sharp within their athletic craft? How will parents and coaches prepare the bourgeoning athlete to be able to withstand the unwavering pressure that comes with being a professional athlete? For there will ALWAYS be someone in their ear to remind them that they are not doing enough to counter the ills in the community. And in many a scenario, the person applying the heat is either not doing enough themselves or have established a track record of not completing anything at all.

And, as if the average pressure isn’t enough, how is the athlete supposed to handle the political aspect of it, i.e. Kaepernick scenario? For there will be instances in which things happen that they cannot control. And when you incorporate the fact that this is such a viral age in which we are living, it turns up the heat on an already very hot issue.

So in taking everything into consideration, just how should a minority pro athlete approach reacting to social issues? Will there ever be a blueprint? Will it ever be safe (from an athletic career and public perception standpoint) to address social issues?

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