By Micah Obiang

On June 4 in 1967, a ground-breaking event took place in Cleveland, Ohio. . The Cleveland Summit, organised by NFL Hall of Famer Jim Brown, brought together a group of the most influential athletes, including Muhammed Ali, Bill Russell, and Lew Alcindor (now formally known as Kareem-Abdul Jabbar).

The meeting was in relation to the stripping of Ali’s belt after he refused to volunteer in the Vietnam War. It was one of the largest political statements during the heavily controversial ’60s that saw an outpour of anti-war testaments from young boomers.

The summit was a powerful display of athletes using their social currency to make a political statement, and a significant moment in the history of sports. The Cleveland Summit showed the public how athletes could transcend their roles and use their platforms to demand change.

For a long time, people have questioned if athletes should have such large control over the minds of the youth and express their political opinions. One of the most infamous examples of this was Fox News’ Analyst Laura Ingraham telling Lebron James to “shut up and dribble.”

“It’s always unwise to seek political advice from someone who gets paid $100 million a year to bounce a ball,” she said. “Keep the political comments to yourselves […] Shut up and dribble,” Ingraham said on a Fox News broadcast in February 2018.

The rise of the cultural importance of athletes is a growing phenomenon, especially during the beginning of the 21st century. The glam 2000s era saw the rise of athletes such as Allen Iverson being unapologetically themselves, and drew an array of young basketball fanatics who tried to mimic him.

Iverson was one of the first athletes to wear baggy shorts, braids, open tattoos, and jewellery during press conferences. Generations of basketball fans saw athletes such as Iverson as their role model, even as the media criticized him.

Damian Lillard, an American professional basketball player for the Portland Trail Blazers, believes Iverson’s influence went far beyond his athletic success.

“He was the guy that kind of blended hip hop with basketball. He was the guy that put it together [and had] that neighbour swag about him that I could relate to.”

The countless criticisms levied at athletes such as Iverson and Muahmmed Ali have opened the door for athletes to speak their mind and truly be cultural leaders. Lebron James and Colin Kaepernick are more recent examples of athletes who’ve both been big advocates of philanthropy.

Lebron James created his own school that provides Black students with privatised schooling. Colin Kaepernick signed a deal with Disney to develop a documentary about racial and social injustices. The actions of these BIPOC athletes transcend their role as entertainers and athletes and use their platforms to demand change.

Ultimately, athletes being able to be advocates should not be seen as something overly political. Similar to great artists of the ’60s and ’70s such as Marvin Gaye and Bob Marley, being public about your opinions should be seen as a medium of making a positive change.

Given North America’s history, athletes have filled the gap of being able to publicize the beliefs and values of the Black community.

See Original Article at The Queen’s Journal