Sports Continue to Lead the Way Toward Racial Unity


Sports Continue to Lead the Way Toward Racial Unity

Sports have often brought unity to communities, schools, countries and even the world. Swimmers for Change has been a big part of that. This week, athletes took an even bigger step to fight for racial unity in wake of another shooting.

After the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, professional athletes did not go unheard. But unlike the past, the athletes didn’t have a moment of silence or wear an arm band — they decided not to play.

It started with the Detroit Lions deciding not to have practice, and instead had a team meeting, then took that meeting public outside their facility, addressing as a team, the racial issues going on in the United States.

Then the Milwaukee Bucks took it a step further and boycotted their own NBA playoff game in wake of the shooting. Other teams followed, and not just in the NBA, but other major sports as well.

Lia Neal and Jacob Pebley (Swimmers for Change) have helped continue the message with their words and actions.

“It has really warmed my heart seeing all of these athletes eager to jump on the opportunity to give back and support the black and minority communities. It is no secret that swimming is a predominantly white sport. Many of our teammates expressed a deep interest in wanting to do more to support this movement and use their platforms as athletes. It has been really special for us, as swimmers, to take the lead and hopefully have this be the catalyst to an overhaul of systemic changes in society as a whole, but also within swimming,” Neal said.

Instead of just stopping at words, athletes around the country are using peaceful action to raise more awareness.

“In wake of the events in Kenosha, Wisconsin, concerning the shooting of Jacob Blake, I am in 100% agreement with what the NBA has decided following the Bucks’ playoff game boycott. The action taken by the WNBA, MLB and MLS made me proud that athletes are using their voices and power more than ever,” U.S. national champion swimmer Reece Whitley told Swimming World.

Athletes have been a voice for change in the U.S. for decades. Outspoken athletes like Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Billie Jean King, Megan Rapinoe and Bill Russell have led with their actions as well as their words in professional sports in the U.S., as well as Olympic swimmers Simone Manuel, Cullen Jones, Anthony Ervin, Katie Ledecky and more.

But this is a whole new level, where teams are willing to risk a potential forfeit in the playoffs — and the possible public backlash, to do what they believe is right, and will help this country achieve racial unity.

Instead of facing a forfeit, however, the governing bodies of the NBA, MLB, WNBA and other sports, have supported the athletes and their message — which in itself is a huge victory.

The NFL’s commissioner is finally listening when it comes to the anthem and Black Lives Matter. Other sports are showing the same support for their athletes.

Whitley said that, while this has been a huge step in the right direction, nothing will change until people outside of sports — especially those in power — are willing to take the same stand.

“I have previously stated that the conversation will not stop. However, real action is what will bring meaningful change to our society. That action toward justice has not even begun. It’s saddening that the vast majority of our country still does not seem to care about Black lives,” Whitley said. “What happened to Jacob Blake should anger anyone regardless of race or political background. There’s not much else I can say or do in my capacity on these issues because those with power still refuse to acknowledge the continued injustices that Black people face. I can only pray that justice be served so that the families who have lost loved ones mercilessly and unjustly may heal.”

Unity among athletes this week is indeed a huge step. Sports will never be the same because the athletes know that their voices are finally being heard and, for the most part, are supported by the leadership in their sports.

Sports has often led the way for change and racial unity in the U.S. — and hopefully that will continue.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

1 comment

  1. Mike Mcgowan

    Interesting that Jesse Owens is not on that list. Like Jackie Robinson he went through a lot of racism

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