“Black Lives Matter is not political, it’s basic human rights,” my coaching staff and teammates heading our new “Call to Action Committee” told me and the other team members after practice. They were responding to some of the concerns I had expressed prior to the team meeting.
By the next game, while running out of the tunnel 10 of my 13 Davidson College teammates and all four of my coaches were wearing T-shirts with “Black Lives Matter” bannered across the front. When the national anthem played and with our U.S. Army veteran team doctor behind us, most of my team dropped to one knee in protest of America’s “institutional racism.”
The virtue signaling was clear: those wearing the T-shirt and those on their knees supported basic human rights, and the rest of us simply did not.
Political messaging in sports isn’t new, but the grip and scale this possesses over sports is. Administrators providing collegiate athletes the platform to speak out on important issues has transformed athletics into a system of coercive speech. Today, athletes and coaches with fashionable views are pressuring their programs into mirroring their beliefs and being applauded by the media and universities for doing it. But is anyone stopping for a moment to question whether the players protesting really want to be?
The partisan social justice messaging on such public display unjustly forced me to make a choice between compromising my beliefs in front of my family and friends or “out” myself as someone holding different opinions. I chose the latter, but in the face of cancel culture and team pressures other athletes are understandably not as willing.
Numerous popular social justice initiatives are tied to partisan politics, and their symbolic nature and all-or-nothing approach leaves no room for nuanced opinions or discussion. From the audience’s perspective, you’re either wearing the shirt or you’re not, you’re either kneeling for the anthem or you’re standing. The campaigns are designed to publicly lump non-participants into a category of ignorance that inevitably leads to divisions and frustrations within the locker room.
But the fact is, Black Lives Matter—something any
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