Tag Archives: sport for good

Caught In Transformation: A Reflection on the 2008 Presidential Election and Athlete Activism

6 Nov

From YouthNoise.

I am still coming down from my high.  I simply cannot put into words this threshold moment. We are in the midst of transition as if being consumed by a giant wave.  Linear perspective has officially suspended.  We can’t quite comprehend this moment because we, as Natalie Portman’s character in Garden State says, are in it.

I blog for you today—the first day of the rest of our lives, and the day after we elected Barack Obama, the first man of color to the Presidency of the United States of America.

This victory means so much to millions of people in the United States and around the world.  The 2008 presidential election has inspired political activism full throttle, even among those apathetic professional athletes I tend to criticize.

William C. Rhoden of The New York Times just published an article today entitled “Obama Duplicates a ‘Joe Louis Moment'” referencing the culturally historic 1938 fight when Joe Louis, a black heavy weight boxer from Alabama, defeated German boxer Max Schmeling at Yankee Stadium.  Mind you, this heavy weight match occurred during one of the most turbulent times our country’s history, World War II.  Louis was herald as a national hero for the masses.  Like Rhoden describes it, “[Louis] was the first universally embraced black hero.”  The proof is documented on the streets of Harlem where upon thousands of African-Americans rejoiced, cheering on the Brown Bomber, the man of whom they considered a living legend.


Harlem, 1938 celebrating Joe Louis’ victory.  Photo courtesy of www.blackhistoryyeverymonth.com

The election of Barack Obama to the United States Presidency is our generations’ Joe Louis moment.  He single-handedly ousted his political competitors who adhered to tired and raucous campaign tactics.  He breathed new life into american politics by reaching out to young people, white-raced people, poor people, and any other demographic you can think of with open arms.  He called upon all americans using new media technology, innovative grassroots organizing methods, and has coined a new twenty-first century message of hope and change that will undoubtedly solidify his legacy in the history books for generations to come.


Chicago, 2008 celebrating Barack Obama’s victory.  Photo courtesy of www.oregonlive.com

The 2008 presidential election and the candidates (namely Barack Obama), have notably encouraged activism in the professional sports community.  Major W/NBA, NFL, and MLB players alike have been moved toward political activism in various ways.  From participating in voter registration drives to participating in PSA’s, it’s no doubt that athletes have collectively evolved beyond the Michael Jordan moments of political passivity.  Will this be a sweeping trend in the sports world?  Only time will tell.  After all, many pro athletes still want to protect their most precious interests, paid endorsements.  This summer during the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, Lebron James and the U.S.A basketball team quickly turned apathetic upon realizing that their professions could be compromised if they used the global sports stage to speak out politically.

Yet still, athletes like NBA player Grant Hill are optimistic.

“What’s interesting is that I’ve seen a lot of athletes lending their support — either way, for both candidates. Just seeing athletes playing more of a role in the political process is something we haven’t really seen for a while. I’ve seen athletes really coming out, lending their support, giving money, going to events, hosting fund-raisers. You really haven’t seen a lot of that in the last 20, 30 years.”

Rhoden believes that this year’s presidential race has “created a free space for activism without risk” for many athletes.  To think that we’ve actually reached a point in our country’s history where we are so hunger for change that even the most mainstreamed athletes feel compelled to do something.  If anything, we are confronting a pinnacle moment of new consciousness most desirable for those starving for revolutionary change.

This presidential campaign has been a long journey for me personally.  I’ve volunteered for campaigns in Texas, outreached for candidates in California, and got out the vote for young voters in Nevada.  I’ve come to that point where I’m emotionally overwhelmed while experiencing an internal quietness at the same time.  It’s like standing alone in the middle of a desolate road waiting anxiously for something I can’t fully describe or comprehend.  Exasperated, I ask myself while in this moment: “Is this actually happening?  Am I really standing here experiencing whatever this is?”

I imagine that’s what folks felt like in 1938 when they crowded the streets of Harlem celebrating Joe Louis’ triumphant win. The moment is so surreal and unimaginable that we question our own existence while experiencing it – it’s as if we don’t believe that we’re actually here and alive.  History has been transformed into a tangible event in which we are living it, breathing it, feeling it, and hopefully embracing it while being touched by it.

What is happening now is that all of us, including our beloved athletes, are wandering along that desolate road looking at one another in utter astonishment.  We’ll continue to wander until that moment when we accept this dream as reality.  Upon acceptance, I hope that all of us, pro athletes included, will continue the fight in order to ensure that our activist efforts weren’t in vain.  I hope that our athletes never lose their activist enthusiasm just because we accomplished the first task.  Though we might feel perplexed and overwhelmed at this transformational moment, we can still move forward while looking back knowing that we made history, herstory, ourstory possible.