Athletes shouldn’t be expected to be neutral

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Often known for their athletic ability rather than their way with words, athletes are taught to let their play do the talking. When it comes to politics, they are heavily criticized for transgressing the perceived boundaries of their profession. It’s time we recognize them as private citizens with opinions of their own as well as public figures.

Championship teams being invited to the White House is a long-standing tradition in sports. Following their second championship in three years, the Golden State Warriors have recently announced their unanimous choice to forgo their visit to President Trump. 

In this instance, the Warriors are an example of athletes understanding the political implications of following, or in this instance breaking, tradition. By skipping out, they made the choice knowing it would send a message whether they went or not.

Athletes are not alone, as most out-spoken celebrities are chastised for discussing their political opinions because of their unique power to influence others, especially those younger than them.

Just because their focus is on a sport and not the political sphere doesn’t mean athletes have given up their right to express their opinions. We often forget as private citizens, they have a right to express their political opinion and have done so for decades when given the opportunity. Boycotting the White House visit is the Warrior’s opportunity to make a statement on what their beliefs are and show that they don’t condone the actions or words of the President. 

Because President Trump is a highly controversial figure, any contact with the White House sends a social and political message whether intended to or not. The Warriors were very aware that had they gone to the White House as they did during the Obama administration, it would imply they condone the President’s politics. Inaction can have the same impact as action does for those in the spotlight.

Athletes publicizing their political alignments is not a recent phenomenon but in today’s political climate it has become frequent. When Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers made the decision to kneel during the American national anthem, he was met with heavy criticism. After winning the Super Bowl, players on the New England Patriots were criticized for skipping their visit to the White House in protest of Trump. In contrast, representatives for the Pittsburgh Penguins have stated that they would go following their recent Stanley Cup win, which has also invited criticism. 

In the age of social media, it has become nearly impossible for individuals in the public eye to remain politically neutral. Asking them to try is not only unfair, but also ignorant of the equally impactful political statement that silence and inaction can create. 

Statements made on social media from celebrities and professional athletes certainly carry weight, but the symbolic power of cancelling the White House visit, or even simply kneeling when one usually stands, is something that few are in the position to wield. 

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