“I just think that sports are stupid and anyone who likes them is just a lesser person.”
As funny as I find Amy Schumer, she’s flat out wrong in this moment of her hit film, "Trainwreck." At the risk of sounding cliché, this past week it has become apparent that sports are actually more than just the final score.
Saturday, about 30 African American football players at the University of Missouri went on strike to show their solidarity with the Concerned Student 1950 movement on campus. The next day, head coach Gary Pinkel demonstrated his support for his players and their actions by posting a picture of his team—with players of all races—on Twitter with the message, "The Mizzou Family stands as one. We are united. We are behind our players."
The movement formed in protest of multiple racial incidents and what members felt was a failure by the administration to act. The stance of the current players—prominent in the public eye—as well as the support given to them by the Missouri football coaching staff and athletic department helped address the demands of Concerned Student 1950 and Missouri graduate student Jonathan L. Butler’s related hunger strike. University president Tim Wolfe resigned Monday.
At the professional level, large-scale social issues are still prevalent. Philadelphia Eagles center Jason Kelce publicly expressed his disgust that Dallas Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy was allowed to play in the teams’ meeting this past Sunday after recent pictures of Hardy's alleged abuse of a former girlfriend surfaced last week.
But the athletes at Missouri and Kelce are not the first to champion a cause. Historically, athletes have succeeded in using their platforms to ignite social change. In 1919, Fritz Pollard and Bobby Marshall became the first two black NFL players, 35 years before schools were desegregated. The list of prominent historical sports figures breaking social barriers and bringing about change are endless. Just last year, several prominent NBA players—including Derrick Rose, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant—wore shirts with the phrase “I can’t breathe"—the last words spoken by Eric Garner before his death in Staten Island.
Other athletes advocate for causes dear to their own hearts. Devon Still—formerly of the Cincinnati Bengals— brought awareness to and raised money for pediatric cancer research in honor of his daughter, Leah, who is battling cancer. By December 2014, Still’s jersey sales had raised more than $1.25 million for research. WNBA 2015 MVP Elena Delle Donne shed light on the lives of those with special needs with a touching tribute to her sister Lizzie for The Player’s Tribune this past summer. Although the causes they support are broad, athletes can have an immeasurable impact by speaking up and taking a stand.
Such an impact has been demonstrated even on our own campus with athletes participating in the You Don’t Say? campaign—encouraging people to rid derogatory words from their vocabulary— and forming Athlete Ally, which states its mission is to advocate “for respect for athletes, fans, coaches and staff of all identities.”
Duke certainly knows about the need for dialogue, and some students are familiar with the feeling of being unsafe. Last week, freshman Jack Donahue took to the chapel steps to speak out against the person who left threats referencing his homosexuality on the wall of his dorm. The incident in Donahue’s East Campus dorm was not the only marginalization that has taken place at Duke. Thus far in 2015, a noose has been hung on the Bryan Center plaza and a Black Lives Matter flyer was defaced.
Regardless of background, every individual has the right to the same freedoms and comfort on this campus. At a place like Duke—where the Cameron Crazies bleed Duke blue and are willing to sleep outside in the cold for weeks for basketball tickets—maybe sports are exactly the outlet to discuss these issues as a university. There is no easy answer to eradicating discrimination at Missouri, at Duke or in the world at large. But talking about it is a certainly a start.
What else can unite people of every socioeconomic status, race and gender?
As entertaining and exciting as sports may be, that does not inherently make them shallow. In fact, a passion that unites so many may just be the perfect spark for dialogue. Athlete Ally and You Don’t Say? may just be the tip of the iceberg.
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So, Amy, liking sports may make you a better person after all.