Baton Rouge

Professional Athletes Are the Strongest Advocates for Social Change

Are you mad? Because I am - mad and disgusted as hell that our country still suffers from so much violence - a symptom of the continual dysfunctional racist ideologies existing at the core of America. Writing here, posting on my social media accounts, being involved with an international diplomatic organization and keeping this a topic among friends will only go so far. I don't have millions or even thousands of followers, not much reach. But those who do, professional athletes - those who have influence with large fan followings and a strong media presence have power to mobilize and make change and have done it before. If you think about it, pro athletes have been trained their entire lives to strategize and implement around goals.

Today Carmelo Anthony used his platform to create a strong call-to-action to his fellow athletes and I'm sure to the millions who follow him. All which deserves recognition, applause and movement. Paraphrasing below and channeling the civil rights advocacy of Muhammad Ali, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Jim Brown, posting the photo above from 45 years ago:

"I'm calling for all my fellow ATHLETES to step up and take charge. Go to your local officials, leaders, congressman, assemblymen/assemblywoman and demand change. There's NO more sitting back and being afraid of tackling and addressing political issues anymore. Those days are long gone. We have to step up and take charge. We can't worry about what endorsements we gonna lose or whose going to look at us crazy. I need your voices to be heard. We can demand change. We just have to be willing to. THE TIME IS NOW. IM all in. Take Charge. Take Action. DEMAND CHANGE. Peace7 #StayMe7o"

So the good news here is that the modern day Athlete Advocates wanting to mobilize together can learn from those who have come before them and use their incredibly powerful platforms, I'm not just talking about social media, but their influence on traditional media, brands, teams and fan bases- to all group together to make a change. Control the content and conversation.

Here's a super quick game-plan for athletes (and anyone) to use:

  • Clearly Define Your Outcome - What is that you want to achieve with your advocacy? What change do you want to make and, if you are asking those to be involved, what is it exactly that they will be able to do? What is the message consistency that can be used?
  • Create an Engaged Leadership Group - Lending names to causes is fine and dandy, but how engaged are your fellow leaders? Will they show up to rallies, make phone calls, take meetings or just send out tweets and Facebook posts? Are your cohorts putting their money where their mouth is or are they just doing it for some media fluff. If the latter, politely say "Thank you, but we're good" and make sure to get engaged leaders involved with you who will get their hands dirty.
  • Lean Hard on Allies - who are the other experts in the field that you are advocating for and what work are they doing on the ground? How can lending your voice, influence and media power help what they are already working towards? Is it Senators, Governors, NGO's and other social activists who do this as full-time work? 
  • Strategize on most Effective Media Outreach - Where are the best and most effective media platforms to publicly call on others to take action? Athletes personal social media sites are pretty perfect nowadays and other media platforms are great with Op-Ed pieces. Is this just for the sports audience or a broader fan base? Could always be multiple outlets and platforms to get the word out.
  • What Does Success Look Like? - How will you know that your actions worked? What is your timeline? Who is keeping track (since you have a more-than-full time job already). These should all be part of the strategy so that there is follow through and agreements with whomever you are asking to help with social change.

Here's the thing about advocacy, standing up for issues and making change that is incredibly relatable to athletes everywhere, professional or not - YOU HAVE TO HAVE A GAME PLAN.

If you truly want to make change, there needs to be a solid strategy in place around a strong team with strong leadership to keep everyone on board and moving forward. Completely analogous to sports - the translatable skills are already in place. Would you ever just go out and state "I Want to Win a Championship" and then never have a strategy? No. So don't do that with your advocacy work either.

It's been 45 years since a powerful group of athletes have come together to demand change as it relates to racial issues in this country. Some may think it's been too long, but at the end of the day, we should be proud that we have a powerful group ready to fight for what they know is right and take a risk at losing financially, to gain ethically....exponentially.