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New Day in Sports: Playing and Protesting While Still Profiting

by Todd A. Smith

 

 

A New Day


Basketball icon Michael Jordan deserves some empathy in retrospect.


In the 1980s and 1990s, when many African-Americans wanted Jordan to speak out on political and social issues, he often declined to do so.


But the 1980s represented a new day in sports in which athletes got rich beyond belief.


Many did not know how politics and social issues would affect their livelihood and the life of their families.


Jordan had reached uncharted waters when it came to fame and fortune.


However, this new generation of athletes led by the likes of LeBron James and Colin Kaepernick have thrown caution to the wind and used their status to speak out for those who do not possess the platform or megaphone that they enjoy.


And after the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the criticism has turned into compassion and communication in many instances.


As team sports cranked back up over the last month, many players used their platform to protest the injustices that African-Americans face daily.


And this time around, many Americans did not turn the channel in protest.


Many Americans, whether they agree or disagree with the politics of many players, tuned in anyway to live sports in record numbers, giving the players an even bigger platform than ever.


Sure, some might have tuned the protests out and just yearned for live sports after the coronavirus shut down most sporting events.


Nevertheless, even the apathetic have to turn empathetic when every time they look on a basketball court or pitching mound, they see the battle cry called Black Lives Matter.


Newsday reported, “It began on Thursday [July 23], when the rain shortened Yankees-Nationals game averaged 4 million viewers nationally on ESPN, the largest audience for an opening night game in ESPN history and the largest for a regular season game on any network since 2011.


“The game averaged 7.8% of homes in the New York market, ESPN’s best such figure in the regular season since 2015.


“On Saturday night, the Yankees faced the Nationals on Fox, and the game’s rating was 17% higher nationally than average for a Fox prime time game last season. It drew a healthy 4.6% of homes in the New York market.


“On Sunday, YES averaged 408,000 viewers for the third game of the series, with a peak of 621,000. The game drew an average of 3.63% of homes, with a peak of 50.6%, solid numbers for an afternoon game in mid-summer.”


In sports like baseball, the empathy with Black Lives Matter will probably help their business because to many inner city youngsters, baseball has not been that popular since the days of the 1970s and 1980s.


Many might incorrectly feel that the sport is for White people and people from Latin America.


Because of the slow pace and exclusive nature of baseball, young African-American kids abandoned the sport in droves years ago for the more “exiting” pastures of football and basketball.


However, maybe the demonstrative display of racial harmony might encourage more African-American children to gravitate back to the sandlot.


With the large contracts in baseball, less severe injuries than football and the simple fact that the average baseball star is more relatable than a seven-foot basketball player, hopefully African-Americans in larger numbers will see that they might have a brighter future on the baseball diamond than the hardwood.


But the hardwood has a seen an increase in TV ratings also.


In the WNBA, players have long used their platform to advocate for social and political change.


And when many critics of Kaepernick vowed to not watch the NFL after players began protesting systemic racism and police brutality during the national anthem, the WNBA also saw increased TV ratings while also protesting during the anthem.


International Business Times reported, “An average of 540,000 viewers watched the season opener between the Los Angeles Sparks and Phoenix Mercury on ABC. It marked a 20% increase in viewership over the 2019 opener on the same network.”


Many WNBA players made speeches protesting police brutality before their games.


And many wore Taylor’s name on the back of their jerseys.


Major League Soccer and Premiere League soccer players also protested police brutality and systemic racism, showing solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement before and during games.


The passion for social causes has proven that players can make money and make a difference without alienating all of their fans.


Furthermore, players like James show that the reason people are blessed is to be a blessing to others by speaking up for them when they cannot speak for themselves.


He has worn hoodies for Trayvon Martin.


He has sent inner city children to college.


He started a school for underprivileged students.


And now James will donate money to former Florida inmates trying to restore their voting rights.


Via his organization More than a Vote, in conjunction with other African-American celebrities, $100,000 will go to the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, which helps people struggling to pay the necessary fines to restore their voting rights.


James tweeted, “This is a fight about their constitutional right to vote being denied.”


In a press release, Miami Heat forward Udonis Haslem said, “We believe that your right to vote shouldn’t depend on whether or not you can pay to exercise it. Which is why More Than A Vote is proud to partner with the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition to ensure that formerly incarcerated American citizens—many of them Black and Brown—are able to pay their outstanding fines and fees and register to vote in the 2020 election and beyond.”


Even Jordan has changed with the times, donating $2.5 million to three different organizations to combat voter suppression in the African-American community.


It is a new day in sports indeed.

This article was published on Friday 31 July, 2020.
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