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Athletes, like politicians, used to utilize their positions of power and the stage they were on to voice their opinions about socially pertinent issues. From Muhammad Ali to Jim Brown, pro-sports stars have been a big part of major movements in our nation’s history. Has this been lost on the athletes of today? Not completely…but the issues have changed and so has the way that athletes express their views. Gone are the days when sports stars were untouchable to the public as social media has bridged the gap between pros and their fan bases. Athletes have the ability to stay in constant contact with their followers and to project their stance on current events.
Here is a look at some of the most socially conscious and outspoken athletes of today:
Chris Kluwe (Punter/Oakland Raiders) – The punter is a published author, an online gaming nut, a social media whiz and a voice for the LGBT community. He has written letters to senators, columns for newspapers and taken a public stance on gay marriage, gun control and other major issues. Kluwe is the model athlete when it comes to public advocacy as made evident by the fact that he was supposedly cut by the Minnesota Vikings because of his candid nature and free speech. He has since jumped on with the Oakland Raiders and just came out with his second book.
Jonathan Pabelbon (Closer/Philadelphia Phillies) – Call him the Ted Nugent of the bullpen because the Phillies’ reliever wants nothing to do with proposed gun control laws. Jonathan Papelbon has always been outspoken when it comes to the game of baseball and has now gone public with his views on the regulation of fire arms and the President of the United States. Though he was far from eloquent when expressing his opinion, Papelbon represents a large amount of Americans in the debate on gun control.
Steve Nash (Point Guard/Los Angeles Lakers) – Steve Nash may seem quiet in nature, but the two-time NBA MVP has stepped up and let his opinions be known on some pretty serious issues throughout his career. The point guard holds two degrees in philosophy and religion and has spoken out against the war in Iraq and U.S. immigration reform. Nash, a former member of the Phoenix Suns, went out of his way to join team owner Robert Sarver in making a statement about an Arizona Immigration bill back in 2010. The team wore “Los Suns” jerseys during playoff games against the Spurs to support the Latin-American community and take a stand against the immigration laws that were passed by the teams’ home state.
Tim Thomas (Goalie/New York Islanders) – Though Thomas sat out the past season, the Islanders still own his contractual rights if he were to return to the NHL in 2013. If they do add him to their roster, they will be welcoming back a two-time NHL MVP and Stanley Cup champion. They will also be welcoming back a player who is now more known for his political opinions than his net minding ability. Thomas famously skipped the Bruins White House visit in 2012 with the hopes of making a statement about how the U.S. government is out of control and impeding on the rights and civil liberties of its citizens. Whether you agree with him or not, Tim Thomas has done right by his beliefs and used his position as an athlete to demonstrate why he stands for what he does.
Brittney Griner (Center/Phoenix Mercury) – Upon being drafted, the rookie immediately became the centerpiece of her team; the league’s marketing strategy and the focus of the media. But how could she not be? She is a 6’8, dominant low-post player with dunking ability, an 88 inch wingspan, who happens to be openly gay. On top of that, she is the first publicly homosexual athlete to have a contract with Nike where she will be modeling men’s clothing. Combine her trend setting with her established presence in television ads and on social media and you have the makings of the most prominent female athlete in the world when it comes to being a champion for social causes.