By Frank Gogola | @FrankGogola
Sports Capital Journalism Program
CHIAGO — The voice – along with the ability to effectively communicate – is one of the most powerful tools for creating change.
Knicks star Carmelo Anthony knows that well and has brought his voice to the forefront on social issues this past month. Whether it was an Instagram post, ESPYs speech or Town Hall meeting, he’s refused to remain quiet. He’ll have another opportunity at the Olympics, should he so choose, since USA Basketball is allowing its players the freedom to voice their opinions on issues – social or otherwise.
Jerry Colangelo, USA Basketball Chairman and National Team Managing Director, said USA Basketball doesn’t have a policy restricting speech on social issues. In the lead up to and at the Olympics, the 12 players have the opportunity to speak freely without fear of fine or punishment.
“It’s more about encouraging our players to use your platform, speak out on issues,” Colangelo said Thursday while standing at midcourt at the United Center. “People expect that, and we have no policy as it relates to discouraging people. It’s about encouragement … because people do look to them, do consider them role models, they’re very visible, they’re as visible as any athletes in the world because of all the exposure.”
The celebrity tag that comes with being an athlete in today’s world doesn’t automatically make an athlete qualified to speak on social ills. But that they’re willing to speak up – even with their personal brand potentially on the line – they command attention.
No one person has the be-all, end-all solution to effectively address all social issues. But it’s about creating and sustaining a dialogue with everyday people.
Anthony kicked things off July 8 with a 280-word Instagram post he wrote in the early morning hours saying that enough is enough. Five days later, he, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul called on athletes to be socially active and promote change during an ESPYs speech.
On July 23, WNBA President Lisa Borders released a statement that the league and players union would use the Olympic break to find “ways for the players to make their views known to their fans and the public.” She said the recently imposed fines on Mercury, Liberty and Fever players for uniform violations – wearing warmup shirts in support of the Black Lives Matter movement – would be rescinded.
“All of us at the WNBA have the utmost respect and appreciation for our players expressing themselves on matters important to them,” Borders said in the statement. “While we expect players to comply with league rules and uniform guidelines, we also understand their desire to use their platform to address important societal issues.”
The same day (July 25) Anthony held his 200-person Los Angeles Town Hall meeting between police, young adults and athletes, the apolitical Michael Jordan spoke up on how he could “no longer stay silent” about the violence committed against and by police officers across the country.
While Anthony said he has nothing in the same vein as the Town Hall meeting planned for the Olympics, social media is there should he feel compelled to speak up while playing for Gold.
“At this point it’s more about focusing in on us as a team, as a country,” Anthony said while tying his shoes ahead of Thursday’s practice. “I’m pretty sure some things will arise, and I’ll deal with that as it happens.”
Tom Thibodeau, Team USA assistant coach, spoke positively about Anthony’s quest for change, even as some fans tell athletes to “stick to sports.”
“I think as a leader it’s a great message that he’s putting out there,” Thibodeau said. “It’s about peace, equality and justice for everyone. And I think it’s an important message. So, we’re supporting him.”
It’s not just a support of Anthony; it’s a support of all the USA Basketball players and coaches.
Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan said Thursday there’s been no pressure forced on him to be a voice for change during the Olympics. It’s been more of an encouragement for athletes – individually or collectively – to use their Olympic platform to better the world.
“At the end of the day,” DeRozan said, “our job is to go out and play basketball and try to bring as much positivity and bring light to whatever’s going on and try to help the best way we can.”