Professional sports and the social justice movement - Part 2
Professional sports and the social justice movement - Part 2
With the Black Lives Matter movement, we have a unique chance not only to address the grievances of minority players worldwide but also an opportunity to fix professional sports for good.
It might not be so immediate but Black Lives Matter is not only an opportunity to give more voices to minority groups who are too underrepresented at the top of decision making in the sports world. It is an opportunity to rethink professional sports.
It is a quest for a more just and egalitarian society and therefore a chance to make professional sports radically different from what it ended up being these days.
Because the entire sports industry is based on a subtle exploitation of professional athletes, not only those of color, outshining and, paradoxically dwarfing the vast majority of athletes, those millions of amateur sports practitioners that, despite constituting the backbone of sports, remain nevertheless overlooked.
Minority players have considerable fewer chances to make it than their white peers but once they make it, they make it big, they become enlisted in the global circus of professional sports and this is where their exploitation starts.
Of course certainly not one of them is enlisted as a bonded laborer but in some ways, they are not that different: they are made captives of a huge money machine that once it holds you, does not let you go and you won’t easily let go either because of the mind spinning ridiculous amount of money being forked out.
Because the rewards, the “numbers” are crazy high and as athlete you try to maximize the most: you bargain for the highest salary, you strive for the most lucrative endorsement, the highest number of followers on instagram and so on.
The so called “more and more” model that actually defines most of modern capitalism, not only the greedy professional sports.
It is a perverse cycle compounded by aggressive and uninterrupted news that can raise an athlete to stardom but can also be quick at dismissing the same.
You become part of a big show a bit like Jim Carrey playing the role of Truman Burbank, unconsciously a reality show “puppet”.
That’s why having the big sports leagues committed to a more just society could be a first step towards rethinking the world of professional sports, questioning its foundations, including all the lucrative multi millions deals being offered to the athletes.
This is just one, probably the most visible, of an array of unhealthy symptoms of the unequal patterns on which professional sports is modeled on.
Encouraging, valuing and recognizing more amateurs in sports would not only create a counterbalance to professionalization of sports, resetting the entire sector closer to its origins when sports was a fun, healthy community based activity.
Working deeper to create a more equitable society would provide other alternatives for the many young athletes, especially those from disadvantaged communities, that know that becoming a pro is their only ticket out of their poverty.
This should not be the way as quality learning and job opportunities should be widely available. More career paths should be available especially for minority athletes who can’t make it “pro”.
At the same time no one is advocating for a total abolition of professional sports but a profound readjustment of it is needed because its foundations are not a mere reflection of massive inequalities in the society but also a propeller, an accelerator of the same.
Sports became too big business and its original roots must be rediscovered.
It is not just about advocating for more donations to community projects and for giving a bigger voice to minorities or ensure that sports fight racism with all its strengths and resources.
We certainly need more resources at community levels; we need to recognize the voices of minority athletes and ensure racism has no space whatsoever in the sports landscape.
We have a unique chance to go back to the roots of sports, to make it more human and less commercial and more importantly, a tool for human and community progress, where persons explores their inner selves, “work out” their positive values and learn new skills.
As result, they become better persons and more importantly, better members of the society.
Any big change requires some sorts of sacrifice and all key stakeholders in the world sports cannot escape a series of tough questions.
Are the leagues ready to embrace change at all levels and pursue a more human, less aggressive commercialization?
Are athletes ready to renounce to some aspects of their stardom, including the financial dimension of that?
Are sponsors ready to rethink the way they maximize their business model that exploit athletes?
Can the workers manufacturing their items in faraway countries get better salaries and better working conditions?
Can their products be more accessible and cheaper? Can less crazy endorsements be offered?
Can a sports event be not just a commercial entertainment and become also a tool for personal and societal growth where members of society come together in joy and learn about the beauties of more cohesive societies?
We should all look with admiration to American professional basketball player Renee Montgomery who is going to sit out in the upcoming W.N.B.A. championship because she wants to be focused on transformational change off court.
Likewise, we should pause to reflect on how another W.N.B.A player, Maya Moore, one of the most accomplished and talented athletes in the league, decided to take a break in her career to help free a prisoner mistakenly convicted.
Their decisions, their sacrifices for a bigger cause, are inspirational and a reminder that Sports is not an end in itself but a tool to transform ourselves and our society.
Let’s not forget that.
Its commercialization should not come at the expense of overshadowing its core mission: make the world a better place for all.
- This is part 2 of a two-part essay series. Mr. Simone Galimberti is the Co-Founder of ENGAGE, Inclusive Change Through Volunteering