I love movies. Scratch that, I love films (fancier term). Therefore, it is no surprise that I keep an eye on the Oscars each year. It adds competition, one of my favorite aspects of sports, to the film industry. The competition this year, however, took a back seat to progressivism.
Two days after the show and people aren’t talking about the usual Oscar aftermath such as the Vanity Fair party or Julianne Moore’s dress. People are talking about… Equal pay for women! Call your parents! Stay weird, stay different! The statements made by a few award winners are carrying more weight than the winners themselves this year, and I love it.
I know what some of you are saying. Who am I to talk about popular culture? I get that. I am certainly not an expert. But, just because we are people of sport doesn’t mean we don’t pay attention to other influential aspects of our society including politics, culture, and reality television. I was inspired.
We had a similar conversation about this in our Sociology class on Monday. Athletes have a platform. Some use it to advance social or political agendas and others do not. Just as this is a divisive conversation in society, it was divisive in class. A microcosm, if you will. Some strongly felt that more athletes, especially professionals, should use their platform to address social issues. Others felt strongly they should not.
I honestly understand and respect both arguments. On one hand, despite Charles Barley’s opinion about athletes as role models, professional athletes are looked up to. They have a voice, and the opportunity to be heard. Thus, not using it could be considered by some as a waste. On the other hand, people watch sports to be entertained. It is a diversion, an escape. When you add controversial social and political views, it can make sports fans uneasy. They didn’t turn the channel to CNN for political commentary. They tuned in to watch their favorite team win.
Still, the debate is worthy, especially when you see the impact of Sunday night. An award show where the awards played second fiddle. To me, it stirred the echoes. I first thought of Muhammad Ali and Billie Jean King. What if they didn’t use their platform? I thought of the “Fab Five.” How different would the sport world be without outspoken athletes?
I then sat back and watched the reactions. Patricia Arquette got crushed by a number of people, mainly other women, for making the comment about “equal pay” while wearing a dress worth more than most women make in a year. Graham Moore, in probably the most important speech of the night about almost taking his own life, was called soft and a drama queen on Twitter.
I then wondered would Ali and King have survived the current age? From twitter trolls to the paparazzi, the risk of aligning with a social movement may far outweigh the reward. With the amount of money and endorsements at stake for the contemporary sport star, why would an athlete take the risk?
I then turned to research, and I was shocked at the number studies that have been done on social movements and “cultural elites.” Why would an athlete take the risk? Simply, it is effective. Social movements with celebrity backing get support. We listen to celebrities, especially athletes. We are drawn to their strength both consciously and subconsciously, and we associate this strength with the issue. And regardless of the issue, the strength of the athlete always wins.
There is a downside. While using celebrity to advance a social cause can be overwhelmingly successful, it can backfire if the athlete is doing it for attention and is not educated on the issue.
So what does this all mean? Surprisingly, despite the enormous risk, I think we are going to see more athletes as social and political advocates. I think it is getting to a point where athletes and celebrities, in general, take arrows from fanatics either way. They get trolled, booed, and curse at regardless, so they might as well use their voice while they have the platform.
In addition, I think sport fans want more from their idols. I think they are starting to realize that it isn’t the billionaire owner that pays professional athletes millions, they are. Their loyal ticket purchases and viewership is the true driver of the sport industry and they want more for their money. They want athletes to be held to a higher standard the average person.
Ultimately, it’s up to each athlete to decide whether it’s important to them to leverage their celebrity for a greater good, a worthy cause. And if you use it, don’t abuse it.