11:07 AM

Students discuss role of athletes and activism

Jessica Johnson leads a discussion on the history of athletes and activism

Colin Kaepernick takes a knee during the national anthem, Tommie Smith and John Carlos raise their fists before accepting Olympic medals and Super Bowl-winning players refuse a White House visit because of the man who sits in the Oval Office. There’s a long history of activism against injustice in sports and it’s not far from the minds of student-athletes at The Ohio State University.

This week, Jessica Johnson, a columnist and tutor with the Student Athlete Support Services Office, moderated a round-table of student-athletes for the Black Student Association. It was one of a series of events organized as part of United Black World Month.

“As most of you know, a lot of people still do not think sports and politics should mix,” Johnson said. “But I think we’re in an era now where we are going to see more of this.”

Johnson said the actions of athletes like Kaepernick, the NFL quarterback who protested the mistreatment of minorities by law enforcement, mirror those of athletes like Muhammed Ali in the 1960s. Ali famously used his celebrity status as world champion boxer to protest the draft and the Vietnam War.

Student-athletes discuss the issues they face

Student-athletes representing sports from football to lacrosse spoke of the challenges they face and the responsibility they feel.

“I really appreciate that athletes feel that they can show some form of protest or solidarity with the black community,” said Andrea Ballinger, a second-year member of the tennis team. “Sometimes when people get to a certain level they can remove themselves from that activism.”

Several of the students said they recognized the responsibility athletes face as role models for a younger generation.

“I feel like our generation doesn’t have role models like Martin Luther King and Malcom X so kids growing up now look up to LeBron James and Cam Newton. They shouldn’t feel forced to speak up but they should feel the need to speak up,” said Damon Webb, a third-year member of the football team.

“Those who just want athletes to "shut up and play ball" forget is that sport is a microcosm of our society,” Johnson said.