Athletes significantly impact political sphere

Sometimes, wealth and fame change the way athletes behave in the public spotlight. There have been instances when the two have been beneficial, such as after 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina when athletes spent their own time and money to reach out to the public However, other athletes have had their fair share of reputations ruined by public scrutiny. When one’s whole life is always being watched, just as any professional sports stars’ is, one small slip up can ruin your career. The most recent controversy in sports directly affects some of Palo Alto’s citizens. This, of course, is the ongoing conflict between San Francisco 49ers Colin Kaepernick and our national anthem, the “Star Spangled Banner.”

Kaepernick believes that by remaining seated during the national anthem, he is standing up for those wrongfully slain by police. Many disagree, saying that he should have to salute the flag and the anthem because these killings are relatively unimportant compared to the thousands of soldiers who have died for the flag while fighting in war.

Those supporting Kaepernick do not believe that true racial equality exists in the United States and claim that the quarterback is simply exercising his First Amendment right to free speech. Many people, mostly those in sports, have taken it upon themselves two pick a side in the matter which many believe is less than newsworthy.

Despite the controversy and personal risk Kaeprnick is experiencing, representatives of the Santa Clara Police Department have stated that they will discontinue their service in Levi’s Stadium if Kaepernick continues his behavior. On the other side of the matter President Obama stated publicly at the G20 Summit in China that Kaepernick should be allowed to exercise his right to free speech, a nod in defense of the quarterback.

Another recently resolved scandal involved U.S. swimmer Ryan Lochte who lied about an incident in Brazil during the Olympics. As shown in a publicly released video recording, Lochte and his friends were confronted at a gas station in Rio de Janeiro following a bathroom vandalism incident after a night of drinking.

Before the release of said video, Lochte and a few other swimmers told family and friends that they were robbed at gunpoint by Brazilian authorities, which cast a negative light on the local law enforcement. In response to the evidence against Lochte, all of his major sponsorships were dropped within days of the matter, including Speedo and Polo Ralph Lauren.

A similarly controversial scandal surfaced when Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps was filmed smoking marijuana at a college party in 2009. After his amazing Olympic performance in Beijing, which netted him eight gold medals, he was likely the most marketable athlete at the games. This quickly changed as the then 23-year-old was reprimanded by sponsors such as Kellogg and Subway, although other sponsors did not take action, including Speedo, Omega and Visa. As advocation for the legalization of marijuana becomes more popular and less harshly punished, this scandal will surely disappear, yet at the time this caught the world by surprise and the backlash continues to affect Phelp’s to this day.

Domestic violence, a more widely controversial matter has affected several pro athletes in the past, but particularly those within  the National Football League (NFL).

Some more high-profile cases feature past Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice and free agent Greg Hardy. These cases had vastly different repercussions. Rice, who many defend, may still have a shot at returning to the NFL after two years of domestic abuse awareness campaigns and statements from his victim-turned-wife.

Hardy on the other hand finds nothing but obstacles in his way. NFL circles are much less forgiving to Hardy than they are to Rice because of the little remorse and continual violence that the former has expressed since the original case.

Both players, similar in the nature of their crime, find themselves in different positions but remain examples of a problem plaguing many sports across America and will sadly be repeated by other players in the future.

The final scandal is less about the problems caused by an athlete, than it is about a problem involving the athlete himself. Feyisa Lelisa, an Ethiopian marathoner and current Olympic silver medalist, has yet to return home after his stay in Rio for the 2016 Olympics.

Lelisa is a member of the majority Oromo ethnic group in his home country of Ethiopia. Despite the difficult situation, his family continues to reside in Ethiopia.

His main enemy is the Ethiopian government which is mainly controlled by the minority Tigrayan ethnic group that has committed unprosecuted crimes against the Oromo. Lelisa has publicized his fears for his life at the Olympic Games if he returns to his home country.

The Tigrayan government promises that he should not be fearful at all, yet he is not convinced and is looking for asylum perhaps in Kenya or the U.S.

Small mishaps can ruin an athlete’s career, as shown by the aforementioned cases. The public watches athletes just as closely as they would watch a politician and often, more is expected from the athletes.

Some causes have made a change such as the one by Colin Kaepernick which is currently ongoing or that of Ray Rice who constantly is fighting to resurrect his previously prolific football career.

Others have a tremendous uphill battle ahead such as Ryan Lochte and Greg Hardy, both of whom may never reach their former glory.

In the worst of all cases, there seems to be no real fix to the problem. An example of a problem which appears to be insurmountable is the one facing  Feyisa Lelisa, who would rather avoid his problem than waste his time fighting it.

Scandals are an issue which will continue to plague athletes and it is up to them how they wish to solve these problems, and ultimately it is up to the athletes how they want to be remembered in the eyes of the general public.

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  • J

    JaredSep 15, 2016 at 3:58 am

    The article highlights the political power and fame that athletes can have. While well written, the penultimate paragraph is downright wrong and inflammatory to a whole group of people actively fighting for a political voice and against unjustice. “An example of a problem which appears to be insurmountable is the one facing Feyisa Lelisa, who would rather avoid his problem than waste his time fighting it.” In fact he has as the western world is now discussing the problem. People here have “disappeared” or worse for a number of years, censored from the west by a monopoly on communication. To go back would be sure death, or worse. By making a stand on a world stage, he opened up blind eyes and hearts to the injustice in Ethiopia.