Athletes lack participation in politics

In what seemingly everyone in the nation was billing as “the most important election of our lifetime,” I must say I was extremely impressed with the level of political activism in the black community.

Whether it was P. Diddy and Citizen Change, and their “Vote or Die” campaign, however annoying, or Russell Simmons’ grassroots efforts to increase awareness, hip hop definitely made a concerted effort to have its voice heard and its needs met.

Clearly absent from this movement, and inexcusably so, were the athletes of our time. With athletes’ salaries exceeding the gross national product of some third world countries, and their appeal crossing all socioeconomic and even racial lines, their contributions to the struggle could be monumental.

Just imagine if Allen Iverson and Clinton Portis thought it their responsibility to corral the legions of young men who want to be like them or influence the scores of young ladies who want to be with them. Think of the possibilities if LeBron James or Barry Bonds were compelled to devote even a portion of their riches to enrich, enlighten and ultimately uplift their people.

Athletes will probably label this suggestion as unfair and unwarranted. They’ll probably say their iconic status doesn’t automatically make them leaders. But like my momma always says, “To whom much is given, much is required.” You don’t have to be a revolutionary to be a part of the revolution.

There was once a time when athletes were not complacent in their own trappings, and weren’t afraid of tainting their ever precious images and risking the loss of endorsements for a bigger cause. There once was a time when athletes didn’t disassociate themselves from the people and areas from which they immerged to “get theirs.” They understood that any single success story within a community is worthless if it does nothing to help someone else achieve.

In the 1960’s NFL Hall of Famer Jim Brown along with several other prominent black athletes of that era formed the Negro Industrial Economic Union. The NIEU hired black MBAs from around the nation and provided financial backing for black-owned businesses. And, Muhammad Ali risked his stardom as well as livelihood for his faith. Ali was convicted of draft evasion and sentenced to five years imprisonment, before appealing the sentence to the U.S. Supreme Court and having the sentenced overturned in 1970.

Players from the old school like NFL great Steve Largeant and NBA vet Bill Bradley elevated their games to another level by becoming active in politics and government after retirement.

Nowadays, athletes make headlines for being the first with spinning rims (Latrell Sprewell) or setting the Guinness World Record for illegitimate children (Shawn Kemp).

While all the blame shouldn’t be placed upon the shoulders of our athletes, some of it should. Until blacks learn to truly unite and pool all of their resources, others will continue to run this country while we run around in it.

Nick Birdsong is a junior newspaper journalism student from Tampa. He is sports editor for The Famuan. Contact him at