Should We Protest?

Seeing that the role of athletes in the political scene has been thoroughly discussed on this site, I want to turn our attention to a different, but equally if not more thought-provoking issue that was raised in lecture. This is regarding the role of academia in politics. Now, whether the faculty members of an educational institution should remain politically unbiased is one debate, and one which I will not discuss in this post having no personal insight in it, but another that I will discuss is whether their students should engage in politics.

Student activists have been famous – or infamous, depending on who’s talking – for organizing energetic protests aimed at the many grievances and worries students may have. This covers a wide range of issues.  We don’t have to look far, even in our own university, students protest whenever they feel it’s necessary. Some have been motivated by issues other than politics, like the recent rally that called for the firing of our Athletics Director. The kinds of protests I want to turn our attention to, however, are those which are politically motivated. Examples within the U of M are, among many others, the 1970s civil rights movements led by African-American students,  and the more recent protests that called for more affirmative action in university enrollment (I’m unsure whether the latter would actually be classified as political or not in the American context, in Malaysia it most definitely would be).

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it’s like taking candy from a baby: college sports edition

Photo Courtesy of: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rice_University

The integrity of the amateur status of athletes involved in NCAA Division 1 athletic programs has been called into question ever since the Southern Methodist University football scandal of 1987. Athletes involved in Division I programs are working as full-time employees for the school as both athletes and students, yet they are receiving little compensation in return. Throughout the history of the NCAA, it has been felt by most that a full ride scholarship is enough and that the players do not need any more incentive to participate in college sports.

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Aspiring To Our Role Models

Elders are commonly role models through their actions and words, they help shape who we become, influence our personalities, and enable us to mature. They set examples for us and we do as they do, reflecting the way they talk, the way they walk, and the way they interact and live their lives. In addition to our elders, role models are often friends, coaches, professors and others with whom we interact every day. These people are continually teaching us something new, good and bad. We can also learn from people we don’t know, like celebrities and athletes we see in the media, to develop an electronic relationship. But what happens when role models withhold information from us, or are prevented from sharing information with those who regard them highly? Does that do more than restrict the sources of information on important topics? Younger members of the current population are less active on political and social issues than prior generations. This may be the result of the treatment given to public role models who tried to send messages to those who looked up to them.

Smith and Carlos Statue

Smith and Carlos Statue

Tommie Smith and John Carlos were two very successful Olympians who protested against racism while accepting their medals on stage and during the national anthem at the 1968 Olympic Games. This act was heavily criticized by the general population and caused many problems for Smith and Carlos. Similar action by athletes have been minimal since then because lots of people would associate political actions by other outspoken athletes in the same light as Smith and Carlos. Public role models have tried to assist struggling parts of society in other ways, such as visiting hospitals, creating or participating in youth exercise programs, and rebuilding communities destroyed by natural disasters or political conflict. Don’t get me wrong, all of those efforts are admirable, necessary, and help raise awareness on important topics, but they aren’t controversial and not equivalent to supporting a minority viewpoint in a very public way. When it comes to political dissent, few speak out on big issues like war or sweatshop labor. All role models, even those aren’t well-known athletes, have the right to and should express themselves more freely, just because they can. Their specific opinions aren’t important, but our role models, especially if well known, must remember they’re setting an important example by demonstrating how to be an active member of society.

Political agency uses ideas and theories to influence actions by individuals or groups to achieve political goals. College students and other young adults are not sure if they can find their place in political activism. Criticism of public figure role models deters students and others from becoming political agents of change. For example, Steve Nash once wore a t-shirt to a press conference, which there was a strong anti-war message. His critics responded “just shut up and play,” implying that his views on social issues were unwanted. Surprisingly, the censoring comments came from others involved in pro sports. Nothing is ever going to change unless people take action. Yet when someone like Nash, an athlete and worldwide celebrity, tries to speak up about what he believes in and gets shot down for it, other athletes are going to be cautious of their actions. An example of why they don’t feel “safe” speaking out about issues is because “You get to the NFL and you’re just trying to get your head above water and float and survive in the NFL, let alone take on (serious political issues),” Brendon Ayanbadejo, the former Baltimore Ravens linebacker who started advocating for marriage equality in 2009, said. “I started speaking out in 2009. I was in my 30s already. It’s so hard just to make it in the NFL, you’re not going to start talking politics and controversial things until you’re comfortable in your career.” And, even if you do, it becomes a distraction. Athletes minds have to be clear the minute they step onto a field.”  If Mill were asked his opinion, he wouldn’t think it was a big deal because it doesn’t violate his view on harm: “The liberty of the individual must be thus far limited; he must not make himself a nuisance to other people.” Celebrities speaking out about views don’t harm others. In a way, it’s a celebrity’s job to both be good in their talents as well as be educated about society. They’re the ones that can influence change on the greater population. Their fans look up to them, and if they think certain laws are unjust, they should be able to speak up about them and be praised for it.

“Athletes are, obviously, human beings with opinions and causes and issues they care about, and unlike many “ordinary” people, they stand on a platform that gives them major influence in American culture. The relative rarity of the athlete who speaks publicly on major social, political, and cultural issues would only seem to add to the influence they can have when they do.”

Aaron Rodgers

Aaron Rodgers

Aaron Rodgers is a great example of this. He got 2,000 people to attend a speech he gave on Congo and conflict materials, which is his newly started political cause. Only because Rodgers is so accomplished in his career that controversy was minimal as a result of this speech. Much of this crowd was probably fans and had no interest in hearing about his cause, rather solely interested in seeing him in person. Yet, that’s the point of the platform they stand on. Everyone that is a fan of Rodgers will listen, and thus this engages more conversation, more awareness, and more educated people. “I’ve been given a platform based on the success that we’ve had as a team and that I’ve had individually,” Rodgers told ThinkProgress after the event…“What am I going to do? I have a voice, I have an opportunity to tell people what I care about. And I care about this deeply, I care about making an impact in this world.”

John_Stuart_Mill_by_London_Stereoscopic_Company,_c1870

John Stuart Mill

Values change every day because opinions and views of right and wrong are influenced by what we read, the things we hear, the people we talk to, and our role models.  Mill believes, “I am harmed if my ability to pursue my life as before is significantly curtailed.” Our elected officials, athletes, artists and celebrities have the ability to influence our views and inspire us to take action, yet their ability to do so is decreasing. The same way that the best athletes seem to get the best calls by referees and umpires, only those considered to be the best at what they do are able to speak openly, yet this is not appropriate. Athletes and other role models who are well informed, even if not the best at what they do, should not be restricted from showing us how to take action or speak out if the topic is important to them. Role models have the responsibility to speak to those who will listen. Perhaps we need to look at the way role models are measured; instead of labeling a good citizen by a stated viewpoint on a topic, their willingness to be politically and socially active, influencing change of any kind, is more important.

Hands Up, Don’t Shoot?

On November 30th, five players on the St. Louis Rams entered the field with their hands in the air referencing the “hands up don’t shoot” gesture that has been receiving a lot of attention in recent weeks. This salute began after the recent events of the Michael Brown Case. For those of you who might not be informed of the Michael Brown Case (I’d be surprised if you aren’t), I’ll give you a quick recap.

NFL: Oakland Raiders at St. Louis Rams

St. Louis Rams demonstrating hands up, don’t shoot

Michael Brown was an 18 year old from Ferguson, Missouri. On August 9th, Michael and a friend robbed a convenience store a few blocks away from Michael’s house. On the walk back, Darren Wilson, a Ferguson Police Officer, is responding to the robbery call and stops Michael because he fit the profile of the perpetrator. Read More

Time for Confrontation

We live in the 21st Century and yet racism exists in every corner of the United States.  The most advanced, developed country in the world discriminates against people every day.  While the rights and opportunities of women, immigrants, and minorities rights also fail in comparison to that of white men, the black population seems to have it the worst.  Black citizens are shot and killed by police twice as often as any other racial group.  The Caucasian population uses five times as many drugs as African Americans, but African Americans go to prison for drug-related charges ten times more often than Caucasians.  The average Caucasian household makes $91,405 each year, compared to $6,446 for the average African American household.  These statistics, and many more, strongly suggest a racial problem, decades after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. lost his life seeking change. Read More

Peaceful Turned Violent

In today’s world, protests have become one of the largest forms of fighting for a cause. Perhaps inspired buy the successes of protesters such as Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr., both of whom preached peaceful civil disobedience, today’s activists often refer/revert to protesting as a way of not only acting towards what they believe in, but also gaining publicity and often times support for their cause.

Furthermore, Martin Luther King Jr. understood that protests unify people otherwise geographically separated. He explained this in his Letter From Birmingham Jail. By nature, protests bring together people with similar opinions and values. On a national scale, it often happens that a protest in one city gains support in others and the protest expands beyond the boundaries of city and state limits. It happens all the time! In 200_ the Occupy movement, which originated as a couple hundred people protesting income inequality on Wall Street, saw continued and feverish support in large cities across America ranging from Boston to Seattle. In fact, the state with the largest amount of Occupy movements was California- the state arguably the farthest from the origin (New York City). But what started as Occupy Wall Street, soon became a world-wide phenomenon, with protests in cities all across the world!

Martin Luther King Jr.

The Occupy protests were mostly successful in remaining passive and non-violent, like the American father of peaceful civil disobedience- Martin Luther King Jr.- would have wanted and been proud of. However, with Ferguson in the news, it’s hard to ignore the potential violence that protests can elicit. Protests turned riots like Ferguson call into question the very nature of protests, their values, and the validity of their cause. Does the violence violate the sanctity of the protests? Does the violence defeat or overshadow their purpose and their cause? Is this violence the undoing of peaceful protests in America that were made successful by Martin Luther King Jr.?

The simple answer: No.

To answer the questions, I believe you have to understand the nature of the violence. Why do peaceful protests turn violent? It happens because of fear. Protests are by definition large crowds full of people who believe in something so passionately that they are moved to act. In large crowds full of such emotion and tensions, it is easy for a spark of fear to erupt into a fire of violence. Little disturbances on the side of any party cause mass panic, and panic can often lead people to run to violence. If anything, our readiness as a nation to turn to protesting is something to be proud of. Martin Luther King Jr. would be proud that we are a nation which in the face of injustice unifies through peaceful protests rather than blindly turning to violence and revolution.

The NFL and The Principle of Harm

The National Football League is one of the most recognized and respected organizations in America. The league is an incredible revenue generator — the executives, players and coaches amongst others all have six to seven figure salaries. The television market is very large, and they also have ownership one of the most viewed sports events in the world: the Super Bowl. People love to watch football. Some fans of the game watch football religiously, treating every Sunday (and Thursday and Monday) as a holiday. Along with the revenue the league generates, a tremendous amount of money is gambled on the games as well. In the United States, the NFL is the most sport most gambled on, which simply reflects the devoted interest.

Even the most routine plays can injure players. Sometimes concussions leave permenant damage

All in all, the sport has been successful, popular and is continuously growing. As a Fantasy Football player myself, I have watched quite a bit of football without a strong interest in the teams, but rather the players. What I continue to see, game in and game out, is players taking hits. Hard hits. Helmet to helmet hits. Blindsided hits. Fans love the violence in football; I don’t see the appeal. Instead what comes to mind is the injuries, concussions, and long term effects of each and every hit. In our Political Science lecture “Freedom, Harm, and Responsibility,” we used social epistemology of John Stuart Mill to unpack the harm principle — an idea that can be directly connected to the National Football League and the violence within it. Read More

Doping – What Would Hobbes Do?

After World War II performance enhancing drugs really hit the athletic world. Now, the general consensus is that to be a competitive, top athlete, you are going to have to (at some point) use a type of performance enhancing drug.

Lance_Armstrong_-2009_Tour_of_California

Who could forget the Lance Armstrong’s doping scandal?

A recent article on vice.com stated that, “Sports doping is a real problem. Scrapping and clawing for a miniscule amount of well-paying jobs, many athletes have little practical choice but to turn to an unregulated drug market…There’s no money and no medals in finishing last.”

Athletes are competing viciously for the few top spots in the world. Their incentives are the money, the world-wide recognition, and the glory. As the vice article illustrates so nicely, these top spots are extremely rare; athletes are fighting over a scarce resource. Read More