Filipino athletes have something to learn from their American counterparts.
After the recent deaths of several unarmed African Americans in the hands of the police, the National Basketball Association (NBA), the National Football League (NFL), the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), and individual athletes like Orioles outfielder Cedric Mullins, Oklahoma State running back Chuba Hubbard, and tennis star Naomi Osaka, to mention a few, have taken a strong stand to work for racial and social equality.
I have seen on TV the NBA hardwood floor emblazoned with “Black Lives Matter” to show where the organization stands on the issue.
But taking a stand has not been without controversies and personal affront. When Colin Kaepernick started protesting racial injustice and police brutality in 2016 by kneeling during the singing of the U.S. national anthem, President Trump wanted him and other players who protest in the same manner fired.
Four years later, despite NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s conceding that the league had been late in acknowledging that racism exists, Kaepernick remains unsigned despite his being an adroit quarterback. He is probably seen by team owners, majority of whom are white, as a rabble rouser or an agitator.
Conservative commentator Tucker Carlson warns that American society will fall apart because Nike is supporting Kaepernick.
Candace Owens, a conservative pundit, has attacked Lebron James for advocating social justice issues while living in a mansion, insinuating that a black man does not deserve to live comfortably.
Fox news host Laura Ingraham said that James should just “shut up and dribble” as if standing on the side of justice is contrary to one’s freedom of speech or athletes have no say on social issues.
President Trump despicably blasted NFL players at a political rally in Alabama for raising awareness of the need for racial equality by kneeling during the singing of the “Star Spangled Banner.” He also attacked the NBA for becoming like a political organization.
Activism among American athletes is not new. I still remember Tommie Smith and John Carlos, American track and field athletes, protest against the unfair treatment of African Americans with a Black Power salute while in a victory stand during the 1968 Olympics.
And who can forget the great Muhammad Ali’s refusal to be enlisted into the U.S. Army and fight in Vietnam? As a result of his action, he was found guilty of felony by the court and stripped of his boxing license.
All these protests by athletes indicate that sports can be a valid platform to express one’s opinion on social issues that affect their lives.
As Osaka, the 2020 US Open women’s single champion, said, “I hate when random people say athletes shouldn’t get involved with politics and just entertain. Firstly, this is a human right issue. Secondly, what gives you more right to speak than me?”
This brings me to the deafening silence of Filipino athletes in the middle of rampant government corruption, lack of employment, and human rights abuses.
What is preventing these athletes from exercising their right to be more active in social and human rights issues? Is it because sports in the Philippines are simply meant to entertain, to be a break from life’s monotony? And once the games are over, their jobs are done?
Filipino athletes are looked up to.by their fans. They are like movie actors and actresses adored by their fans. They have a horde of loyal followers. Manny Pacquiao was elected a senator not because he has the skill of a politician, but because he is famous. Because of their status, Filipino athletes can influence and help change society.
But I often wonder why, for too long, these athletes have remained silent in the midst of increasing social problems and human rights violations. Is it because they just want to make the most money, knowing that their career is a fleeting one?
Where were the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA), the UAAP, the NCAA, the Premiere Volleyball League (PVL), and the Philippine Football Federation (PFF) when 11,000 workers from ABS-CBN had to be laid off due to the decision made by selfish and heartless members of the House of Representatives? Many of these workers are probably loyal fans of these leagues.
Where were the PBA, the UAAP, the NCAA, the PVL, and the PFF when peace consultant Randy Echanis was killed inside his rented apartment, to be followed several days later by the shooting of Zara Alvarez, an activist in Negros Oriental? The list of slain activists in the current administration is on the rise. Many of them have been red-tagged as communists. The perpetrators are often not apprehended.
There is more to life than just being an athlete. Life is not just about the game. There are times that as humans, players have to look beyond the game and the limelight and harness their incredible power to use their platform for social change.
Think of how many people have been influenced by Muhammad Ali, Lebron James, Naomi Osaka, and Colin Kaepernick. Because of them, American society is probably a little bit better because of the stand that these players have taken on issues that matter to them and to society in general.
Filipino athletes can do the same, if not better.