The year 2018 marked another fascinating one for activism in sports. Athletes, brands and leagues took different positions on whether and how to address political and social issues.
The NFL halted implementation of its new national anthem policy, leaving it up to each team whether a player would be disciplined for protesting. Nike, the largest company in sports, saw boosts in sales and stock price after releasing its Colin Kaepernick ad. LeBron James was told to shut up and dribble, so he created a documentary series called Shut Up and Dribble. College athletes, WNBA players, Olympians and others also continued to use their voice.
Some are praised for speaking out in the sports arena; others face backlash. What if athlete activism was a regular feature of sports? If more athletes spoke up on matters of public importance, what would be the implications in a number of areas, such as fan engagement, sponsorships, relationships within teams, athlete health and welfare, and society in general?
On Dec. 10, we explored this topic at a panel discussion. Watch the replay at the top of this page.
Panel 1 (10-11 am ET):
- Etan Thomas, former NBA player/author of “We Matter: Athletes and Activism”
- Cheryl Reeve, Minnesota Lynx coach and general manager
- Israel Gutierrez, ESPN reporter
- Jon Solomon, Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program editorial director (moderator)
- Joe Briggs, NFL Players Association public policy counsel
- Ellis McKennie, University of Maryland football player
- Liz Clarke, Washington Post sports reporter
- Tom Farrey, Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program executive director (moderator)
Read a Q&A Aspen Institute story with Etan Thomas on why athlete activism matters.
- Maryland football player Ellis McKennie never thought of himself as an activist until his friend Jordan McNair died, by Jeff Barker, The Baltimore Sun
- How Maryland football player Ellis McKennie became an activist, by Aman Kidwai, Washington City Paper
Future of Sports is a quarterly conversation series by the Sports & Society Program. Our first event in January was Future of Football: Reimagining the Game’s Pipeline. Our second event in May was Future of College Sports: Reimagining Athlete Pay. Our third event in September was Future of Sports Betting: Reimagining its Public Value. We will explore four topics in 2018 with thought leaders, encouraging them to consider the major trends and potential policy shifts on the table, and ask: What if? In doing so, we aim to help stakeholders think through key questions shaping the future of our games, the sports industry and its impact on society.
The Sports & Society Program thanks Marilyn and Michael Glosserman for their generous support of the Future of Sports conversation series.