By Kevin Avedon
It was a Saturday afternoon in the Parc Des Princes, the home of French soccer team Paris Saint-Germain, and on the pitch a close match was being held. PSG (Paris Saint-Germain) and SM Caen were the two clubs battling it out in front of the thousands of passionate fans in attendance.
Towards the end of the match, with the home side losing, an incredible equalizing goal was made by none other than soccer star Zlatan Ibrahimovic. However, the goal was not the highlight of the moment. After the goal sailed past the keeper he celebrated in a very unique way. He removed his jersey to reveal his body covered in tattoos. He kept a serious expression while opening his arms to emphasize the ink on his body.
He was penalized with a yellow card and the match ended in a draw. It was later revealed that his body was covered with the names of those from around the world who suffer from hunger. Ibahimovic partnered with the World Food Program to spread awareness of world hunger through this act. He stated, “I had 50 names temporarily tattooed on my body. They are the names of real people who are suffering from hunger around the world. The tattoos have gone, but the people are still out there.” This act serves as an example of how social issues can be addressed through sports. Certain athletes have a platform that reaches millions, so by using it they have the capability of increasing awareness and helping the causes they are a part of.
In today’s society, the attention that is given to sports is quite immense. It is discussed on social media, television, and many other forms of communication from across the globe. Fans show their admiration to athletes of major sports by following and supporting them. With this level of connectivity, it provides these athletes with a platform. Through this they can express their concerns for social issues and controversies that are present in the world today.
As shown with the example of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, it serves as a tool to generate awareness. The fans that do not focus on world issues can be exposed to them by these athletes. Some might argue that this does not belong in sports, however. The argument that athletes should just pay attention to the game has been made. Seattle Seahawks football star, Richard Sherman, is one who disagrees. “Sometimes you have to do your best to use your platform in the best way possible, and it’s not always advertising and marketing for these companies. It’s sometimes standing for what you believe in.” By using their voice, an athlete can elevate a message to the public’s consciousness. For those who suffer and do not have a voice it can provide them with the hope that they need.
Additionally, by using their platform athletes can not only generate awareness among sports fans but can be involved in tackling the issues as well. One example is boxing legend Muhammad Ali. During the late 1960s, there was a storm of controversy surrounding the Vietnam War. Ali decided to become involved in this issue. He refused to participate in the war and publicly criticized it. Due to this, he was stripped of his heavyweight title, convicted, and sentenced to five years in prison. He never went to prison since his case was appealed and eventually was able to regain the heavyweight title later on.
This act was never forgotten. Since then he has been acknowledged worldwide for his devotion for “religious freedom, racial justice and the values by which he has led his life.” So by not only using his platform, but participating in the anti-war movement as well, his legacy grew in and outside the ring.
Furthermore, athletes can also use their platform to address social issues by creating foundations that help others. Through this they can raise money and awareness for important causes. One example of an athlete who took personal troubles in his own life and decided to make a difference is Miami Heat star, Dwyane Wade. His parents divorced when he was only eighteen months old and his mother received custody of him and his siblings. She made money by selling drugs and was a drug addict herself. He was also witness to gang violence and drug use outside the home.
When he first entered the league he decided to address his past to help others in the process. Thus, he created the Wade’s World Foundation which supports organizations within communities that help promote health and education for children in at-risk situations. By doing this, Wade used his platform to tackle on the social issue of poverty and how it affects kids at a young age. He stated that “I can’t just let basketball define who I am and what I am supposed to become.” Through establishing this foundation and helping others outside of it he has used his platform to express his concerns on a relevant social issue.
The modern era of sports is being followed by billions from around the world. The top athletes of their respective sports have the opportunity to participate in the activities they love while providing entertainment to the countless number of fans at home or in the stands. They are also given a platform that they can choose to use by expressing their concerns and stances on social issues. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Richard Sherman, Muhammad Ali, and Dwyane Wade are all athletes from a wide array of different sports that share the same belief. This view is that athletes should embrace this opportunity to help others and spread their message towards a massive audience. There has been criticism from some that claim they should solely focus on the game they play. To ignore this tool of expression however would not only undermine the idea of freedom of speech for athletes but their intelligence as well. To view them all as simply individuals with brawn and without brains is an unfair assumption. Overall, athletes have the ability to address social issues and the capability to provide a voice for those who might not have one.