Kids look up to sports stars for more than just their athletic skills. (File photo)

KURIAL: Speak up athletes

Athletes have a powerful platform at all levels, and should use it to influence change

For those not in Terrace to check out the Davis Cup over the weekend, your soccer weekend likely consisted of watching MLS action. (The Vancouver Whitecaps won a game!) What could have been just another match on Sunday turned into a much broader discussion however due to the actions of one player.

After scoring a goal against D.C. United right off the kickoff, the Philadelphia Union’s Alejandro Bedoya ran to a field microphone and yelled “Congress, do something now. End gun violence. Let’s go.”

This of course was in response to a devastating Saturday in the United States which saw a pair of mass shootings in El Paso, TX and Dayton, OH that claimed dozens of lives. Fed up with decades of political inaction on the issue of gun violence, Bedoya felt it was time to use his platform to enact some change.

Quickly this launched the debate that has amped up in recent years regarding athletes and politics, and how vocal they should be on issues outside of their sport. Sports leagues generally make a point of attempting to stay apolitical at best for fear of alienating any part of their fanbase, but sometimes cannot help but show their biases. The NFL ownership’s capitulation to Donald Trump in the wake of his call to ‘fire’ those ‘sons of bitches’ who knelt during the national anthem put their political leanings on stark display. The league’s rush to settle a collusion case brought forward by Colin Kaepernick – who claimed owners conspired to keep him out of the league after his protest – would seem to back up this point.

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Many wondered whether Bedoya would be punished for his remarks. This would have been ridiculous, given the context of the message. The idea that someone could be disciplined for stating something as obvious as gun violence in America is a problem that needs addressing would set a precedent for players being unable to discuss anything of substance.

Of course, we’ve seen many people would prefer this, such as when LeBron James himself was told to ‘shut up and dribble’ by a prominent FOX News (an oxymoron if there ever was one) host. In this case common sense did prevail in the end: not only was Bedoya not fined or suspended, his act sparked a fan effort to have him named Player of the Week, an honour he took home on Monday. The Union also won the game 5-1.

This all took place on the biggest of stages with American sport and politics intersecting. But there’s no reason athletes on any scale can’t use their voice to try and spark change. It’s a truth in society that people look up to sports stars, no matter what level they are at. Members of the All Native tournament use their voice to try and improve the lives of those in their community. If a member of the Prince Rupert Rampage had an opinion on a local issue, their take would likely go a long way into swinging things in a certain direction.

Bedoya said it best in his post game interview: “Before I’m an athlete, I’m a human being first.” There is no reason athletes need to sit on the sidelines when it comes to political and social issues. History has shown that they are often the ones that end up being the catalyst for serious change, whether it be on the national or local scale. People’s opinions are often swayed by what their favourite sports star says or thinks. Kids see their favourite players as heroes and quote what they say at school. The potential for positive influence here is incredible.

Athletes are adored and have one of the biggest platforms in the world, they should be eager to use it to push for change in their communities.

READ MORE: COCULLO: Let the girls play

Alex Kurial | Journalist
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