VOICES of Social Change holds panel to discuss recent athlete activism for social and racial issues

By Grace Dille

VOICES of Social Change held a panel conversation March 8 in the Stamp Grand Ballroom on athlete activism, examining the surge of social and racial activism over the last several years.

Professor Kevin Blackistone (University of Maryland) moderated the panel, which included Diane Roberts (WUSA9 Sports), Dave Zirin (The Nation), Ben Carrington (University of Southern California), Grant Farred (Cornell University), and Damion Thomas (Smithsonian Institution).

Panelists discussed why social and racial activism has shifted so dramatically in recent years and many of them attributed it to the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as social media.

Zirin discussed the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin in 2012, and the social media responses from LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Miami Heat teammates, who posed with their hoods over their heads to call attention to the issue.

“They didn’t call the lead columnist at the Miami Herald, they put it on social media,” Zaron said. “And that’s another big shift that has happened over the last six years or so, that athletes are able to…go around the filter and speak directly to their fans.”

Blackistone discussed President Donald Trump’s disapproval of the athletes who took a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality and racism. Carrington broached the question of his role in athlete activism.

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The moderator and panelists pose for a picture.

“Trump isn’t a catalyst, but he’s certainly an accelerator,” Carrington said.

Keandra Tindal, senior accounting major and leadership studies minor, said athletes and celebrities are also a huge accelerator of these issues.

“It’s not that it’s their responsibility to speak out, but more so that they have that platform,” Tindal said. “Wealth creates change…courage creates change. I feel more courageous to do something because they did.”

Senior bioengineering major and leadership studies minor Chris Mikus said giving public figures such a strong voice may make people more hesitant to speak out. 

“It’s sad that people are so scared to really share their thoughts, and [that] you have to wait for these megastars to kind of break the ice before you can slide in with your comments,” he said.

Senior agriculture and resource economics double major Ben Zimmitti said he encourages fellow citizens and students to raise their voices on the issues they feel passionate about.

“What role does any kind of celebrity figure have, and what responsibility do they have more than another human being? I don’t think we as citizens should just advocate all of our agency to individuals just because they have a platform,” Zimmitti said. “We can make our own platform too.”


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