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WALFISH: World needs more athletes like Muhammad Ali

Josh Walfish

Josh Walfish

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by Josh Walfish
Sports Writer

Monday, June 6, 2016

In the wake of his death, everyone is saying the same thing about legendary boxer Muhammad Ali — what made him so great was not his accomplishments in the ring, but the difference he made outside it.

Let’s fast forward 50 years from now, will we be able to say the same thing about any of our current superstars? 

We have some of the more talented athletes in history thanks to technological revolutions and the advances in science. However, one thing that has regressed during the past 15 years is the number of athletes willing to vocally take strong social stands publicly.

In this age of social media and viral sensations, athletes are caring more about their brand and appeasing the masses than standing up for their own beliefs. 

Granted, there have been some notable exceptions when athletes have crossed the line into the political sphere — the riots in Ferguson, Missouri stand out — but rarely are athletes at the front of these conversations like Ali was during his prime.

Ali was one of the few athletes of the past 50 years who transcended sports, something that cannot be said about any of our current athletes. There is a difference between the likes of Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, who might be recognized all around the world, and those athletes that are actually making a significant difference.

During the heat of the Vietnam War discussion, Ali made the unpopular stand of evading the draft to stand up for his own belief. He accepted that he would lose his heavyweight title and be subject to fines and potential jail time. He didn’t care about the consequences, he only cared about using his platform as one of the more popular people in the country to make a statement about the need for peace.

The war was not the first, and likely not the most important, social battle Ali fought during his career. His stances on racial issues shaped the discourse in the United States — name a modern athlete who can make that claim.

What so many people respected about Ali was not his talents in the ring, but his ability to use that talent to create a platform for him to provoke discussion. One can only imagine how big Ali would have been if he had the power of Twitter at his disposal during his prime.

The scary part is modern-day athletes have large social platforms designed to broadcast a message to the masses, and most of them fail to use it to spark a conversation. Hardly anyone uses it to highlight the community grassroot efforts that make the world a better place.

Following an athlete on Twitter is simply looking into a highly-manicured behind-the-scenes tour of their life. The lack of substance is quite appalling in all honesty.

It’s easy to see why athletes have adopted this strategy. With the number of trolls who tweet at sports writers who discuss politics, it’s understandable why the athletes stick to their lanes, but when’s the last time you cared about what a troll thought about you?

The modern athlete is judged by their athletic accomplishments and nothing more. Is that a product of no athlete warranting a discussion of their social impact or the fact we simply only care about the rings?

 

In the wake of his death, everyone is saying the same thing about legendary boxer Muhammad Ali — what made him so great was not his accomplishments in the ring, but the difference he made outside it.

Let’s fast forward 50 years from now, will we be able to say the same thing about any of our current superstars? 

We have some of the more talented athletes in history thanks to technological revolutions and the advances in science. However, one thing that has regressed during the past 15 years is the number of athletes willing to vocally take strong social stands publicly.

In this age of social media and viral sensations, athletes are caring more about their brand and appeasing the masses than standing up for their own beliefs. 

Granted, there have been some notable exceptions when athletes have crossed the line into the political sphere — the riots in Ferguson, Missouri stand out — but rarely are athletes at the front of these conversations like Ali was during his prime.

Ali was one of the few athletes of the past 50 years who transcended sports, something that cannot be said about any of our current athletes. There is a difference between the likes of Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, who might be recognized all around the world, and those athletes that are actually making a significant difference.

During the heat of the Vietnam War discussion, Ali made the unpopular stand of evading the draft to stand up for his own belief. He accepted that he would lose his heavyweight title and be subject to fines and potential jail time. He didn’t care about the consequences, he only cared about using his platform as one of the more popular people in the country to make a statement about the need for peace.

The war was not the first, and likely not the most important, social battle Ali fought during his career. His stances on racial issues shaped the discourse in the United States — name a modern athlete who can make that claim.

What so many people respected about Ali was not his talents in the ring, but his ability to use that talent to create a platform for him to provoke discussion. One can only imagine how big Ali would have been if he had the power of Twitter at his disposal during his prime.

The scary part is modern-day athletes have large social platforms designed to broadcast a message to the masses, and most of them fail to use it to spark a conversation. Hardy anyone uses it to highlight the community grassroot efforts that make the world a better place.

Following an athlete on Twitter is simply going on a highly-manicured behind-the-scenes tour of their life. The lack of substance is quite appalling in all honesty.

It’s easy to see why athletes have adopted this strategy. With the number of trolls who tweet at sports writers who discuss politics, it’s understandable why the athletes stick to their lanes, but when’s the last time you cared about what a troll thought about you?

The modern athlete is judged by their athletic accomplishments and nothing more. Is that a product of no athlete warranting a discussion of their social impact or the fact we simply only care about the rings?

The answer is a mixture of both. We as a polarized public do not want our favorites athletes to cross the line in fear they might disagree with our political beliefs.

This is especially true in North Carolina, where very few sports figures have come out on either side of the HB2 issue. It is the perfect chance for even a smaller star who either hails from the state or plays professionally here to make a statement, but outside generic comments about discrimination, no one has taken the firm stance.

It’s shame that no athlete is willing to stand up and use their platfrom for social justice because the world needs a new champion; the greatest one who ever lived is now gone.

Josh Walfish can be reached at 407-9952 or jwalfish@rmtelegram.com

 


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