Some of the biggest storylines dominating the sports, and political news cycles, revolve around politically active athletes. This is somewhat surprising to me considering the history we have of lauding, in hindsight of course, political athletes that make change. Figures from Muhamad Ali to Billie Jean King have inspired many with their stories of perseverance and excellence, both in the sports and political arenas. Yet when these athletes are applauded for their work influencing American politics, many are chastised for voicing their political opinions. Whether it is the President of the United States implying that Colin Kaepernick and his supporters are not welcome in the US or Laura Ingraham telling Lebron James and Kevin Durant to “shut up and dribble” after they criticized President Trump, athletes seem to be under fire for being active and engaged citizens.
Before we can have debates about political issues, everyone needs to understand our constitutional freedom to express opinions and participate in discussion. Debate, discussion and discourse are the ways to engage with those that have different views. John Stuart Mill, a founder of our modern understanding of liberalism, argued that for society to progress, dissenting opinions should not be suppressed. Humans are fallible beings and can be wrong. To silence an opinion is to assume infallibility, that your position is completely true. Even if the dissenting opinion is wrong it may hold a kernel of truth and if not, the conflict will only strengthen your position. This is the reason that freedom of speech and press are protected in America: so that those with dissenting opinions are protected in their expression of them.
Why then are athletes not being given the same respect when it comes to their opinions? Your occupation shouldn’t dictate whether you can voice your opinion. When the president tries to use his power to discredit someone’s legal expression or a political commentator dismisses a person’s concerns due to their education and vocation, this should be a red flag. Regardless of if they are an athlete, maintenance worker or politician, each citizen can engage in political discourse. If Colin Kaepernick, Eric Reid and Malcom Jenkins think police brutality towards minorities is a political issue that needs attention then they should be allowed to voice that. If Lebron James wants to criticize President Trump or address issues within Ohio’s education system then he should be afforded the ability to do so. This does not extend only to progressive-learning athletes. Tim Tebow should be allowed to express his pro-life stances and religiosity without being labelled a “travesty.” Phillip Rivers should be able to voice his support for Republican candidate Rick Santorum and express his Catholicism proudly.
If you disagree with any of these athletes the answer is not trying to delegitimize their voice. Barring them from their jobs and attacking them in the media doesn’t help anyone. If your voice was being delegitimized how would you feel? How is that different from athletes? Criticisms of opinions should be encouraged – not criticism of people exercising their constitutional rights.