by James Viray

 Credit: Richard Hertzler, lancasteronline.com

Credit: Richard Hertzler, lancasteronline.com

Watching the election returns last week and the subsequent reports on voter turnout reminded me of a controversial quote from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar during a National Public Radio interview several weeks ago. In discussing participation in the electoral process, Kareem said, "Ignorance is not something that lends itself to a meaningful discussion. Some of these people really shouldn't vote because they don't know what the issues are. And I think people that are, you know, voting in the blind are doing a disservice to our country by not being better-informed.”

I won’t comment on Kareem’s words as they apply to last week’s elections, but I would like to reflect on how his thoughts might be relevant to the social phenomenon we follow closely at Athletivate: athlete activism in professional sports.  

In recent weeks and months, we’ve seen a number of professional athletes across different sports make public demonstrations in protest of an issue or in support of a movement. We’ve covered those demonstrations in previous blog posts and we talked about the importance of athletes “educating [themselves] on all sides of the issue and the potential ways forward.”

When an athlete does not make the effort to study the issue she is advocating for, is she “advocating in the blind” and doing a disservice to her fans, community and those impacted by the issue? We think so. Professional athletes have a platform that is too effective and an opportunity that is too valuable to employ for an issue that has not been well-studied or without a plan that has been well-thought out.

While professional athletes certainly don’t have a responsibility to use their fame and fan base as an advocacy platform, if they do choose to use it for those purposes, we suggest that they do so responsibly. To quote the parting words of Peter Parker’s sage Uncle Ben, “With great power, comes great responsibility.”

Most of today’s geo-political or socio-economic issues are rarely black and white and an athlete who jumps into an issue before understanding all of the grey can often end up making uninformed, if not inaccurate, statements, or supporting popular, but ineffective policy solutions—all in front of an attentive and persuadable community of fans. 

Whether you're a private citizen casting a secret ballot in a voting booth or a high-profile athlete taking a public stand behind a microphone, let's make the effort to understand the issues. Let's do it responsibly. 

At Athletivate, we help athletes use their platforms responsibly to motivate action on their causes by working with them to develop an understanding of all sides of the issue; articulate an informed policy position with practical recommendations; facilitate partnerships to mobilize community members and leaders alongside them; and design an advocacy strategy to put them in front of influential policymakers to drive real change on the issue.