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Sit, stand … athletes must back social messages with action

I’ve spent the last couple of months outlining evergreen blog topics to share insight into sports publicity and related business issues.

As often the case, however, it’s a crisis that’s brought me out of my summer cave. The United States is in a big one, and once again, sports – today the NFL — is in the thick of the news, but not in a way you might think. Sure, I’ve thought long and hard about Colin Kaepernick and why he’s not on an NFL roster, but this is about other football players taking a stand and the discussions many of us are having about race and religion today.

Brand outline redo

When I coach branding and how to build a positive public-relations platform, the longtime script has been be to good at your sport or sports business role, stay out of trouble, give back, show an affable personality and be nice to people even when they annoy you.

Most of that script remains.

A few years ago I spoke to a group of young sports broadcasters when one of them asked what I thought about them sharing religious or political views on social media. I told them that unless their brand foundation was built on political or religious bricks, avoid those topics 99.9 percent of the time. I said that their audiences come from all walks of life, so they’re best not to rock the boat.

I shredded that part of the script.

During the past few days we’ve seen deadly riots led by white nationalists – Nazis — in Charlottesville, Va., who later claimed victory against people that counter demonstrated in the name of equality. Three people lost their lives. A hate-filled man drove a car into a group of innocent people. If you’ve been living under a rock or haven’t tuned into any media since the start of last weekend you don’t even have to Google it. Just open your eyes.

We’ve seen this before

We’re seeing hate in society that we haven’t in decades. It’s not like prejudice disappeared after the 1960s riots, but in the last several months it’s come out of the shadows because it’s been validated. Politicians refuse to decry it so in silence, they empower groups that spew hate and violence. They, in fact, instigate it, and then don’t take responsibility. They craft words that meet their own agendas and say “see, we’re against it.” Not really.

Sports + Society = Us 

Now back to sports. And society. Because sports and our communities intersect. People debated throughout the summer why former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Kaepernick would or wouldn’t play football this year, and many continue to say that he’s not on an NFL roster because he chose to sit during the national anthem last season to protest police brutality.

Michael Bennett

This past weekend, Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett and Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch sat during the national anthem before their preseason games. Bennett, who’s voiced his religious and political opinions in the past, said he might not stand during the anthem all season. Bleacher Report’s NFL reporter Mike Freeman tweeted last night that he exchanged texts with five NFL players who said to expect more like them in light of the events in Charlottesville.

From these men to Packers tight end Martellus Bennett (Michael’s brother) who’s long said that he’s much more than a football player, I applaud their not “sticking to sports.” None of us should if we want to influence change for the better. News Flash – athletes are human beings like the rest of us. We on the sidelines watch games and enjoy their incredible physical feats, but if you say you don’t want politics with your sports, you better find a new hobby. It’s not like you’ll feel like you’re watching Meet the Press when you turn on an NFL game, but we officially live in a different world than even one year ago. NFL players know they have a platform that airs their messages on a bullhorn that reaches millions of people. They also know that not all fans will agree with them and may not buy their merchandise as a result. They’re fine with that. And we should be fine with and respect their actions. It IS, the American way.

Athletes have influence

What will I tell the kids, you ask? We talk about children that look up to athletes and see them as roll models (don’t @ me about the latter – it’s an entirely different topic). What better people to admire than those that exercise their right to fight against racism and for religious freedom in a country that thrives when it’s inclusive? I personally want athletes to use their public platforms for good, not evil. I want them to rub off on adults who sit on their couches and preach beliefs but do nothing.

Football is a business

Even in business, branding is a different ballgame. Today you saw company executives take stands against evil and promote unity and diversity. I hope they see the value in athletes that do the same.

The bottom line is that it’s time for people to stand up and support one another like they never have before. We are born innocents. If we’re fortunate, we join loving and nurturing homes and go to school where people accept one another regardless of looks, physical ability or religious beliefs.Unknown-1

America is still the most wonderful country in the world, but we live in a dangerously divisive time in our history. We cannot let 2017 end looking like the 1960s. If it takes professional athletes to say that hurting others in the name of race, gender or religion is wrong, then I hope they keep talking. You don’t have to agree with how they protest, but respect that they have the right to peacefully demonstrate the way they want.

They’ve got to do more than sit

Athletes have to go steps further than simply sitting and talking, however. Along with the rest of us that need to get off of our collective tushes, they must be involved with their communities and back their sitting with constructive, peaceful action … help make the world a better place because they have the influence to lead others in that direction.

We love to see athletes do something special with a sick child or provide resources to an impoverished area. Many of these things are done with a league or team push and in the name of good PR. I hope that players who sit during the anthem do it because they have greater goals in mind and know that when they work toward a greater good, fans will follow their lead.


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