Brandon Trachtenberg: Athletes must continue to lead and provoke change after election

Wednesday, November 4, 2020 - 11:24pm

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Tess Crowley/Daily

Televisions across the country remain on election coverage, the country anxiously waiting for a conclusion to one of the most contested races in recent memory, in what is a fitting end to the pandemonium known as the 2020 political season.

Months of rallies, television attack ads, drama and heightened division are mostly over. No more television and social media advertisements promoting civic engagement. No more celebrities and athletes telling people to vote. No more mobilization.

The votes are in and it is now up to those counting the ballots. 

Whatever happens from here on is what it is. 

But, the issues Americans voted on are not finished. Specifically, the social justice protests that flooded the streets over the summer and the change people fought for is not over. For months, people selflessly spent hours of demonstrating, often being confronted with resistance and violence. Their messages are not concluding with the results of the election because racism certainly won’t dissipate regardless of the outcome.  

While those who actively participated in the streets are the drivers of the movement, it is important to note the assistance of athletes that helped re-energize it and continue to press  progress forward.  

“Everyone can use their platform today,” Eastern Michigan linebacker Tariq Speights told the Daily following a student-athlete led Black Lives Matter rally in August. “There’s a lot of student athletes in the crowd right now and we have the unique ability to reach people because of what we do. In this age of social media, we have thousands of people, as soon as we post something, eyes on that post.”

Athletes — tired of being viewed only through their on-field accomplishments — seized on their popularity and their platforms to fight for change on issues they felt were important. For many, that was fighting back against generations of systematic racism and police brutality.

As Nov. 3 approached quickly, that attention diverted toward educating people and motivating them to use their right to vote — one that has been often neglected in America. They used the tools at their disposal like social media posts, wearing paraphernalia with the word ‘Vote,’ promoting messaging during their press conferences and even donning masks with ‘Vote’ on them.

Their participation and activism was historic, educating and motivating millions of people. It is projected that about 160 million eligible voters used their privilege, which could be the highest turnout since 1900 — quite the turnaround from 2016.

Did athletes have a role in this? It will be almost impossible to find concrete evidence of that, but it’s hard to deny they had some effect.

And while all those votes won’t be completely counted for days or possibly weeks, that effort is finished and life will move forward. 

“Voting is just one of the ways that you can affect the people around you, the government around you (and) the way life is like happening around you,” Michigan volleyball sophomore middle blocker Jess Robinson said back in October.

With 2020 being an election year, the focus of activists was predominantly on that, but there are other ways to affect change. Athletes must continue to use their platforms and support their communities. Too much is at stake to sit back and let life take its course.

When it comes to the fight for social justice, one election will not even come close to fixing all the faults in the system. The momentum built needs to continue into actual policy changes. People need to continue to place pressure on those in power to make those changes.

Elections only admit the opportunity for people to put those in power to enact the changes they wish to see. It is up to those same people to keep those in power accountable. 

And as evidenced over the past few months, athletes do have the power to influence change. Now, they have the responsibility to continue that influence. 

Trachtenberg can be reached at btrach@umich.edu and on Twitter @brandon_trach1


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