Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Is Our Greatest Good Enough?

Do we even like to hear our athletes talk anymore?

On Dan Lebatard's podcast, Jeff and Stan Van Gundy talked about athletes speaking with the media. Lebatard mentioned a conversation he had with Cal Ripken Jr. He asked Ripken if he had any opinions on religion. Ripken said yes, but he wasn't going to share them with him. I'm sure Ripken's image wasn't hurt by him being silent. And while I could care less about Cal's opinions on those things I wouldn't mind hearing athletes open up every once in a while.

However, I think any team sport athlete who speaks his mind freely with the media is looked on as some sort of weird, fringe character who belongs with the circus rather than a pro sports team. For example: Jeter, Brady, Duncan, Kobe, those guys always toe the party line and won't open up to people on much more than the game. And their viewed as the best athletes of the generation. As they should be.

You also have your "characters." Like Chad Ochocinco (pre-head butt incident), Clinton Portis, and Gilbert Arenas (pre-guns in the locker). Those guys were fairly good in their prime, but are they in the same discussion as the guys listed in the previous paragraph? No way.

You also have those guys who take a stand. There is NBA player Etan Thomas, who may be the most politically active professional athlete in the US. There was also the recent comments supporting gay marriage by Baltimore Ravens' linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo. Most notably, then Phoenix Suns star Steve Nash publicly called out the controversial Arizona immigration bill in 2010.

I applaud those men for using their celebrity for something good. However, most people didn't take those comments too seriously. Thomas is a mediocre player. Ayanbadejo was told to basically shut up and play football from a member of the Maryland legislature. Nash is probably the only one who got away with it because he's one of the greatest point guards of all time. Even though Nash is notably political, people just don't really talk about it.

So why can't athletes be entertaining and broadcast a meaningful message? Why can't we have more athletes like Muhammad Ali? He was hip-hop before hip-hop. Ali was at the center of probably the biggest poltical-sports firestorm ever when he refused to fight in the Vietnam War. He was stripped of his titles and banned from fighting for life.

Ali had some of the most memorable quotes of all time on the subject of war:

"Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?"

"I aint got no quarrel with them Viet Cong... they never called me nigger."

Could you imagine someone like Kobe or Peyton Manning saying stuff like that? They would be skewered by the media for not shutting up and playing ball.

And lest we forget that Ali was entertaining as hell... Just listen to this interview

We want our athletes to shut up and play in this day and age. Those that do take a stand are either criticized or brushed aside if they aren't winners. 

If athletes have something of quality to say I would implore them to share it. 

Muhammad Ali did and he's The Greatest. 

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