Saturday, June 7-
By Jacob Kornhauser, KCOU Sports
A trio of current events going on in the sports world has brought to light something that has been evident for a while: sports provide social change. Those events are the Donald Sterling case, Michael Sam being drafted and the Washington Redskins’ potential name change.
Since the days when Jackie Robinson was advancing African-Americans’ place in professional baseball and professional sports, the sporting world has acted as a catalyst for social change in this country. Since athletes and everything around them provide a celebrity context, when social change works its way into this paradigm, the country takes notice.
That’s been the case lately with the debate on whether or not the Washington Redskins should change their team name. This argument has heated up even more lately after 50 U.S. Senators signed a petition calling for the team to change its name. Never mind the countless efforts that Native Americans have made to improve their conditions in a country that was stolen from them, it takes a sports team name to get the nation to actually talk about their rights.
Whether this is right or wrong isn’t the point; sports bring important social issues to the public’s attention and that’s a positive thing. While this particular case doesn’t necessarily involve social rights, it’s still another case of sports bringing about social change.
In another recent story, Donald Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers made some racist remarks to his girlfriend that ended up recording and exposing to the public. These remarks have now made Sterling the former owner of the Clippers. The franchise was sold for $2 billion and is pending approval.
His comments infuriated a league dominated by African-American players. This brought up workplace rights. While it may take some time for changes to take place in other forms of business from this case, changes will take place. It can’t be known for sure, but if the CEO of a major company made similar comments, it would’ve been a minor story. It’s been over a month now and everyone is still talking about this Donald Sterling case. That’s the power of sports.
Perhaps the best example of sports bringing about social change was Missouri defensive end Michael Sam coming out as a homosexual male. The sports world blew up this story and when Sam was drafted by the hometown St. Louis Rams, making him the first openly gay professional football player in history, it was truly a landmark moment in sports and in the United States as a whole.
As a physical force and as the SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year, Sam changed the public’s perception of homosexuality. He showed the country that gay men come in all shapes and sizes and that it doesn’t matter who you are if you’re comfortable in your own skin. It’s clear the impact he’s made on the LGBTQ community and on football fans everywhere as his Rams jersey is No. 3 in sales nationally amongst rookies. By going public with his sexuality, he stirred up controversy, but also rallied those in support of gay rights.
The sporting world has been the vehicle for social change for the past half century at various times. Just in this past year alone, it has had three major instances of that. As time moves on and more social issues rise to the country’s attention, it’s a good bet that the sporting world will have a tremendous impact on the efforts of all involved.