“So many athletes are afraid to use their platform to do the right thing and speak what they feel, and that’s very depressing.”
—Tennis legend Martina Navratilova to approving New York Times sports reporter Juliet Macur, as the former tennis great prepared for her keynote speech at a human rights event at the Department of State.
Wrong, Martina. There is no “platform.” You earned credibility and influence regarding social and political issues by intelligently and boldly standing up for your own rights and privileges, on issues that affected you directly and about which you had an important perspective and a legitimate reason to speak out. Female athletes. Discrimination. Gay rights. Feminism. You had credentials and authority in all of those areas, and using your status as a sports star to spark intelligent debate was responsible and fair.
Once you had established your credibility, analytical abilities and skill at articulating issues while taking informed positions on them, then you had earned added legitimacy separate from your athletic prowess and stardom. You’re a smart person: smart people’s informed opinions should be listened to and considered no matter what the topic. Many other athletes have expanded their legitimate authority and influence this way. Muhammad Ali. Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Ted Williams. Billy Jean King. Bill Bradley.
Athletic stardom, however, confers no more assumed expertise regarding issues unrelated to sports than being a paper-hanger or a busboy. The difference is that famous athletes, like famous singers and actors, are admired and idolized by many people, especially among the young, who are incapable of resisting the siren influence of their heroes. There is nothing good about this, and everything wrong about it. Tom Brady supports Donald Trump, and the only reasonable reaction to that is to conclude that Tim Brady is a moron. However, that’s not how blank-slate sports fans react to his endorsement. For too many of them, the sequence is pure cognitive dissonance: Continue reading