Sports Features 06 Apr 2021
“Shut up and dribble,” three years ago TV presenter Laura Ingraham said these words to Lebron James, in response to James’ interview with ESPN when he talked about being a black person in America. Lebron, who entered the league in 2003 and risen to become the face of the NBA did not shut up and dribble. Lebron continues to use his platform to speak on a variety of issues such as race, social justice, and education. He opened the “I Promise School” in his hometown Akron, Ohio with the aim to help struggling elementary school students stay in school, which he calls his most important professional accomplishment in life.
“Championships, MVPs, I mean points, rebounds, and assists, that stuff is whatever. But for me to be able to open up a school and give back to my inner city, so many kids that I know because I was those kids. People can talk about everything else besides that, but they can never take away what I’m able to do for my hometown and people all around the world. That’s what means to me more than anything,” Lebron said in 2017 when he opened the school which also provides free tuition to the University of Akron for every graduating student.
Last year, as the Coronavirus pandemic struck, the Manchester United striker, Marcus Rashford began to campaign about child hunger. Driven by his own experiences, Rashford implored the government to reverse the decision not to provide free school meals during the summer holidays. He believes the decision taken by the UK government will put a lot of disadvantaged families at risk. As the government reversed their decision, Rashford does not stop. He set up a petition and calls for the government to continue to provide free school meals during the holidays. While this was voted down in the parliament, Rashford’s action drove businesses, councils, and charities to donate meals to struggling families across England.
“The system was not built for families like mine to succeed, regardless of how hard my mum worked. The people making decisions, have they experienced these things? Have any of the people in the government speaking about this had a life where they can literally afford to buy food and pay bills and that’s it? I doubt that they have. The way they speak about it is so insensitive. For me, it’s like they don’t have big enough understanding on the issue.” Rashford said to BBC last year.
Athlete activism is not something that occurs only in the past few years. The likes of John Carlos, Tommie Smith, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Muhammad Ali are some of the prominent sportsmen that have inspired the current generation of athlete-activist such as Colin Kaepernick, Lebron, and Rashford. The courage to speak up against injustices and facing the ensuing backlash is admirable and one that Indonesian athletes perhaps should take note of.
For far too long we rarely heard from Indonesian athletes on their views regarding race, inequality, or other issues that are relevant to society in general. It seems they tend to leave such things to politicians, activists, or other public figures. Perhaps having spent most of their life training and competing, they don’t believe that they are qualified to do so. But this is a convenient excuse. The truth is we don’t expect our athletes to change the world by themselves.
Our expectation of them is still to achieve the best result on the field, but at the same time, athletes have the power and responsibility to bring positive changes. Not using their voice and platform to do so means neglecting their responsibility as a public figure that can serve as an inspiration to millions of people. Indonesian athletes have been sitting on the sidelines for too long, it is time they join the game.
*This article is part of the International Sports Day for Development and Peace celebration.