Chris Long plays in the National Football League. He has played in the NFL for 10 years. Chris Long also played football at the University of Virginia. His high school? St. Anne’s Belfield School in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The events that took place over the weekend in Charlottesville sent chills down the spines of most people who witnessed them. Ironic that the actions of spineless racists affect the spines of innocent, decent human beings.
Like others, Chris Long was disgusted with the devastation in his hometown.
“When you think about the right way to digest it, it’s hard to do anything but get angry,” the Eagles defensive end told reporters after practice earlier this week. “I don’t know if that’s what these people are trying to incite, but it’s working. It pisses you off.”
Long, who regularly shares his thoughts and opinions on numerous topics on Twitter, didn’t stick to sports. LeBron James, who often calls for justice and peace and did so again this week, did not stick to sports.
They were just two of a number of athletes expressing concern and sorrow this week.
Quite often, when a professional athlete breaks away from the rigors of his or her sport to speak on current events, the immediate reaction comes in the form of fans suggesting those athletes just “stick to sports.” Even sports journalists get hit with the phrase when the Twitter timeline creeps away from game recaps and breaking news.
Long didn’t stick to sports. Neither did LeBron. Neither will I.
Sure, these high-profile athletes get paid gobs and gobs of money to entertain us with their athletic talents. That’s what they’re paid to do, and man, they do it so well. Yes, even Colin Kaepernick did it well.
I’m not here to blast or defend NFL players who sit for the national anthem. I’ll leave it up to you to determine if it’s worth arguing.
What I am here to do, though, is support athletes who speak outside the confines of the sidelines.
We are often quick to put professional athletes on pedestals. “Our kids are watching.” “You guys are role models for young athletes.” Those arguments are absolutely acceptable when judging the character of professional athletes and raising the expectations we have for them.
But being a role model goes beyond the field of play.
We are all members of society who should — and do, via the First Amendment — have a voice in how that society functions. With the influence that pro athletes already have, why would we try to silence them in difficult times?
It’s about discussion. It’s about teaching and learning, informing and expanding our own knowledge, opinions and values. It’s about being better, more accepting.
I was angry and appalled to see James Alex Fields viciously drive his car into a crowd of people in Charlottesville. Just because Long tackles guys for millions of dollars on Sundays, he shouldn’t be allowed to be angry, too?
These acts of violence, the division in our country and throughout the world, that relates to every person, no matter how that person makes a living.
“It’s about us,” James said Tuesday. “It’s about us looking in the mirror. Kids all the way up to the adults. It’s about all of us looking in the mirror and saying, ‘What can we do better to help change?’”
Making the world a better place for everybody is going to take everybody, and that includes the athletes we watch on our big-screen TVs.
Now, more than ever, we shouldn’t stick to sports.