In times like these, social issues dominate the conversation, and every individual has their own perspective and opinions. We live in a society that elevates the “elites” and places them on a pedestal for all to scrutinize. Unfortunately we like to forget that just because someone is exceptionally talented at something specific, or have a lot of followers on social media, it doesn’t mean they're qualified to influence thousands of people with their words.
Student athletes today feel constant pressure to speak on social issues such as systemic racism and police brutality, whether they’re informed or not. They’re told that silence on social media establishes themselves as the enemy, and not agreeing with the majority is unacceptable. And when they do speak out, someone is there to tell them they’re “athletes not politicians” and to “stick to sports”.
Student athletes feel pressure from a multitude of entitles. Many of these players feel they are representing their community, and if they’re a minority, their race. On top of that they also represent their university, so they must keep in mind that their words reflect upon the institution at which they play. Pressure can also come from their own teammates and coaches, some who want to speak out more than others. Locker rooms are full of different people from different places, so disagreement is unavoidable.
All of this pressure to speak up and say what is perceived by the masses to be the right thing weighs on the mental health of many student athletes. With the public eye powered by social media waiting to pounce on anyone who dares to defy the majority opinion, those who want to speak up can’t even speak freely if they disagree in any way. And those who don’t feel the need to chime in are vilified as well.
It is the responsibility of the university to check on the health of their players both physical and mental. So many athletes that are accustomed to being around their team and their sport 24/7 have been on their own for three months, so they might have not been in the right state of mind to begin with. Universities need to take measures to protect and take care of their athletes.
One of the ways they can accomplish this is open, honest communications. Teams need to make sure their players understand that the locker room, and I mean that metaphorically, is a safe haven for all thought. Sports knows better than any industry the power of coming together regardless of individual differences. Athletes need to know they are supported by their teammates and coaches whether they choose to speak or not.
In sports the best athletes are comfortable being uncomfortable. Coaches must not skirt around the issue. Gone are the days when politics could easily be kept outside the locker room. Cell phones have made it so every one of their players literally have the world in the palm of their hands. Understanding your teammates perspectives can only strengthen the bond you already have. Teams must not be afraid of a difference in opinion, which seems to be the trend in social media.
The public also has a responsibility to not expect so much from college athletes. Just because you saw them on ESPN, or they were a top ranked recruit doesn’t mean that they’re not 18 years old. Not every athlete is a political science major and at the top of their class. Some of these athletes would have no business being at that institution if they didn’t excel at their sport. Stop pressuring kids to speak on things they know nothing about. All you’ll get from them is a general statement meant to please the masses, since they’re liable to get “cancelled” if they don’t back the majority 100%.
At the same time, if you’re prepared to let a black student athlete bring you to tears while watching them on the field, you cannot dismiss what they say off of it. There is no such thing as an athlete “going too far”. They’re regular human beings just like the rest of us, with opinions and perspectives that they may want to share. Telling an athlete their opinion doesn’t matter is as damaging to their mental health as forcing them to speak. They are not on this planet solely to entertain you, acknowledge them as individuals off the field as well.
It is okay to admit you aren’t educated on the topic. I don’t talk about cricket and hockey with my friends. You don’t talk about ancient civilizations with yours. Nobody knows everything’s, especially not kids who got their high school diploma 8 weeks before suiting up for their first college football game. It’s not healthy for us and it’s definitely not healthy for them. Universities must acknowledge the perspectives and opinions of their athletes and the public must not hold them to an unfair standard simply because they’re a household name.