An athlete is more than a name on the back of a jersey and an athlete’s voice goes beyond their sport, or at least one would think.

Society places athletes on a platform far above the average person. When someone like Tom Brady does anything as simple as walk around a mall, countless media members are documenting every move and posting it to social media where it is likely to be shared thousands of times. When Jacob deGrom attends a post-game press conference, he is asked a barrage of questions about his performance on the mound, and each answer is then analyzed by sports journalists, radio hosts, and fans across the country.

Every action and word of an athlete is analyzed, critiqued, and shared. The media creates huge platforms for an athlete by talking about them on national and local television across the country on a regular basis.

Why, then, does the media who built this platform for the athlete, tear down and criticize them when they reach out and talk about things such as social issues existing throughout their cities and the country as a whole?

People often forget that these players are more than their sport. They have their own beliefs and have every right to voice them like any other person. When a superstar thinks there is a topic that needs to have awareness raised about it, no one should stand in his or her way. If you disagree with it that is fine, but do not bash the athlete for utilizing their freedom of speech given to them by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

Media members across the country believe that athletes should stick to their sport and that anything they say beyond the hardwood or field should be silenced.

One of the best examples of an athlete having their voice criticized by the media is a 2018 incident in which NBA stars Lebron James and Kevin Durant were criticized by Fox News television host, Laura Ingraham for talking about their own political beliefs in regard to President Donald Trump. 

Ingraham was clear in a Feb. 15 broadcast on Fox News, that she believed James and Durant did not have the right to talk politics.

“There might be a cautionary lesson in Lebron for kids, this is what happens when you attempt to leave high school a year early to join the NBA,” Ingraham said.  “It’s always unwise to see political advice from someone who gets paid $100 million dollars a year to bounce a ball. Oh, and Lebron and Kevin, you’re great players. . . but keep any political commentary to yourself and as someone once said, ‘shut up and dribble.’”

“Shut up and dribble,” she says. It is worth noting here that the “someone” she refers to is unknown. There is no documentation of anyone else across the media telling basketball players to “shut up and dribble.” 

The media built Lebron and Durant’s platform. Lebron had cameras in his face from the time he was a sophomore at St. Vincent-St. Mary High school in Akron, Ohio. Durant the same. Both were renowned and highly praised at such a young age due to their abilities on the basketball court. The media still talks about them in seemingly every SportsCenter update, but when the duo uses this platform for a topic outside of their sport all of a sudden, they are in the wrong.

“We will defiantly not shut up and dribble,” Lebron said in a press conference a day after Ingraham’s comments. “I mean too much to society, too much to the youth, too much to so many kids who feel they don’t have a way out and they need someone to lead them out of the situation they are in.”

Athletes are more than points and championships. People of all ages look up to these players because of the lives many of them had to go through to get the point they are now at. Athletes stand as a beacon of hope for those who are in a seemingly hopeless situation.

Let us put aside the politics for moment and talk about other issues that persist across the country. One thing that is still alive in the country today is racism. There numerous people in United States who downgrade another person because of the color of their skin.

This is wrong.

There has always been a call to end racism in this country, but it seems like the call has never been louder than it is in 2020. Athletes across the country are speaking up to end the wrong that is racism.

“I think players’ voices are very important,” Oklahoma State University running back, Chubba Hubbard said in a September media session. “We’re the people playing. To hear our voices and consider what we’re saying, I think that’s important.”

An athlete’s voice should never be silenced.

Following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, protests arose across the country in support of the Black Lives Matter movement which was a call to end police brutality and racism. Tens of thousands of people joined in these protests to bring a call of unity and change to society. 

One of the most boisterous people during these protests was Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard.

“I think the unity being shown across the nation and in other countries is delivering a strong message and applying true pressure,” Lillard said in an interview with Lisa Robinson of Vanity Fair in June. “There are also more people in search of ways to take true action toward change and not just be a part of the outcry, So I think now, more than any other time, we are moving in the direction of change.”

Many athletes are role models to people all across the country. As I stated previously, many of them stand as a beacon for hope to people who are in search for something to hope for. Why would people silence those who stand for people that cannot have their voice heard? Why would the media criticize the voice that they helped to create?

No matter the level of play, athletes have a voice that is often heard louder than the average person. They stand for more than the team on their jersey and their voice should be heard in circumstances that go beyond their sport. The voice of an athlete is one that deserves to be heard.