Activism in sports can be a double-edged sword for both athletes and members of the media. People with a platform in sports are crucified when they do not use their influence for a cause, and they are often told to stick to sports when they do come out in support of a controversial issue.
It is not the job of professional athletes to speak out in the media. It is their job to perform during contests of their respective sports and to win as many of those contests as possible.
Greg Howard of Deadspin spoke with NPR in 2015 in an interview that mostly focused on race and sports writing. He had an interesting take on what obligations athletes have.
“I would say hell no, athletes aren’t obligated to talk about things other than sports, but they should if they want to. If an athlete wants to speak on anything I think they should and we as media [don’t have] any right to tell them they can’t, but that’s different from having an obligation to speak on anything,” Howard said.
This leads into how we should cover activism as members of the media. It is our job as members of the media to speak out and to reach people. This gives us great purpose and power that we must use wisely.
It of course has to be said that what we produce depends on who we work for. Some sports media companies focus solely on sports, and some branch out into the polarizing issues of society. In the future, if I have an opportunity to speak out and to reach people, I’m going to take it.
Dan Le Batard of ESPN has had a philosophy on his radio show in recent years that has really resonated with me and I have sort of adapted it to how I view sports media and what content I will produce in the future.
“We like to think of ourselves as a ‘smart stupid show.’ Get you in the circus tent with some laughter and nonsense and clowns so that you are already in the audience when we tackle the important stuff like race, religion, society, injustice, etc,” Le Batard said in an interview with Radioink.com last December.
Comedy or just pure sports will get consumers to read, listen or watch. Once you have those consumers, you should tell them about people. People are interesting, complex and unique. Always. That is not necessarily true for sports.