The Ali Effect And The Modern Sports Activist

Should Entertainers Use Their Platform For A Cause?

By JuWan Graham, CBS 62/CW50

Sometimes you remember where you were when greats die. When Muhammad Ali passed away, I was in my room on my phone perusing around the Internet.  I got an alert from Bleacher Report saying that he was ‘gravely ill.’ A few minutes later, he was dead. You know that feeling where your stomach drops, that feeling was eerily similar.

Ali was known for his fighting tactics (e.g. Rope-a-Dope), his “loud” mouth, and his sharp wit.  What is not notably talked about was his defiance.  His fervor to not settle for the mundane, to stand up to the government, and to have a voice for the voiceless.  To me, that is the most important lesson that Ali gave to the public.  That entertainers aren’t just entertainers. That they aren’t just there to put on a show for the masses, take the money, and leave. They have the platform to make a change, to speak the truth. People like Jim Brown, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, and Billie Jean King all come to mind.  One of a kind athletes, but even better human beings.

Recently, there has been a lot of backlash against San Fransisco 49ers backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick.  No, I’m not talking about him “Kaepernicking.”  Yes, that was a thing, as was “Tebowing.” Kaepernick recently called to awareness the hot topic of police brutality by kneeling throughout the duration of the national anthem.  “People of color have been targeted by police,” said Kaepernick in a recent interview in NBC Sports.  “So that’s a large part of it. And they’re government officials. They’re put in place by the government so that’s something that this country has to change.”  Whether or not he was right in his method of protest would take away of the actual purpose of the protest.  But I’m not here to chime in on that.

In this country for the past 20 to 30 years, we have seen a massive decline in prominent figures wanting to speak about social issues.  Afraid of losing endorsements and other bonuses, these figures have had a tight lip on controversial issues. However, Jesse Williams delivered an impassioned speech about human equality at the 2016 BET Music Awards. And NBA megastars Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Chris Paul, and Dwyane Wade opened the 2016 ESPY’s by talking about police brutality.

Look, I get the fact that most public figures are out of touch with reality. Really, just ask Michael Jordan. They’ve lived a cushy, comfortable life and now they’re asked to speak on important topics.  But denying that they can have a voice is completely destructive. We need Kaepernick to speak, the same way as Ali. These figures have the platform, such as Ali did, to drive the conversation, to ignite discussion, and to feed the flames of debate.

Whether or not you agree with his method is debatable (that is truly a different conversation), but we need a person of Kaepernick’s stature to drive this conversation. And if Ali were here, he’d be smiling with his trademark fist.

JuWan Graham is an aspiring public relations practitioner with a passion for writing and sports. JuWan is an intern at CBS62 and CW50.  He is currently a senior attending Eastern Michigan University, majoring in Public Relations and minoring in Marketing.

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