2020 will always be remembered as one of the most fervent years of political activism and fighting for social justice.. Millions of Americans gathered to fight the divisiveness of systemic racism in our country, and within those millions were a few athletes who fought hard this year as activists. A recent “Sports Illustrated” magazine announced the Sportsperson of the Year as “The Activist Athlete” and wrote about five athletes who they felt embodied this role. The five chosen athletes were Lebron James, Naomi Osaka, Patrick Mahomes, Breanna Stewart and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif.
Lebron James is considered a Greatest of All Time (GOAT) for basketball and he has used his fame significantly to help others. Among his contributions, James created an elementary school in his hometown of Akron, Ohio that focuses on giving children from low-income families a well-rounded STEM curriculum. During the past NBA season, in a stand against racial injustice, he and the rest of his basketball team joined the Milwaukee Bucks in going on strike after Jacob Blake was shot seven times in the back by a police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin. With the election this year, James decided to put his focus onto getting more young Black Americans out to the polls to vote. He co-founded an organization with other Black artists called More Than a Vote, likely one of the reasons this past election saw a record-setting number of votes.
The next athlete added to the Sportsperson of the Year list was world-renowned tennis player Naomi Osaka. For this year’s U.S. Open, Osaka wore seven different face masks with seven different names of Black Americans who were victims of police brutality. The names included Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Philando Castile. She also withdrew from the semi-finals of a Cincinnati tournament to protest the shooting of Jacob Blake. The organizers of the tournament followed her example by pausing all of the matches scheduled for that day.
Earlier in 2020, Patrick Mahomes led the Kansas City Chiefs to win the Super Bowl immediately putting him in the sports spotlight. He decided to put his newfound fame to good use by using the Mahomies Foundation to help pay for new voting machines in Kansas City in order to help achieve a fair election and ensure everyone is able to vote. The foundation also was a sponsor of the Black College Football Hall of Fame’s “Road to Equality” Event this year.
Breanna Stewart of the WNBA Seattle Storm decided that even with her 2020 season being in a bubble, she was going to take a stand for what was happening throughout the country. Stewart had posted to Twitter prior to the season that she wanted the WNBA to paint “Black Lives Matter” across their baselines for the season. By using her voice and influence as MVP of the season, the organization listened to her. In her first game of the season, Stewart asked everyone to hold 26 seconds of silence for Breonna Taylor, who was tragically murdered by Louisville police in her home..
The name Laurent Duvernay-Tardif may not be as well-known as some of the others on this list, but Duvernay-Tardif switched his entire career path this year, in order to help the healthcare system with the pandemic. Since 2015, Duvernay-Tardif has been a consistent starting right guard for the Kansas City Chiefs. They won the last Super Bowl and were very highly ranked for this season, but instead of continuing on with the franchise, he decided to return to Montreal and return to his career of being a doctor, and to help the frontline workers in any way possible. Duvernay-Tardif made incredible strides in his athletic career, one of them being that he now belongs to the small group of Canadians who have won the Super Bowl, but he realized that in this time that we are in, helping the medical frontlines is more important than adding any sports achievement to his career.
While many more athletes also contributed in the fight for racial equity this year, there are just as many who decided to stay silent. It is no easy thing as an athlete to decide to speak out about something controversial, because as proven by many others in previous years, even famous athletes like Colin Kapernick can be blacklisted and never play their sport again. Nevertheless, these athletes risked their sports careers and decided that speaking out was more important.