Can Athletics Inspire Not Just Social But Political Change?

12-16-victor-cruz-shoes-4_3_r560The horrific incident in Newtown, Connecticut Friday night has had an effect on people that comes close to, if not surpasses, the feelings around the incidents of 9/11. Then the feeling was more toward revenge and nationalism as well as healing. This tragedy, because of its randomness and its targets being innocent children, seems to have shaken consciousness not just in America but around the world, to its core.  The response, similar to the shooting of innocent children in Dunblaine, Scotland several years ago, has been personal passionate and widespread, and it ill continue as the young innocents and those adults lost are laid to rest for the remainder of the week and into the holidays.

The global response from the athletic community has also been impressive, from the Queens Park Rangers donning arm bands to Providence College re-doing their uniforms as a sign of support to all the efforts in social media by NFL and NBA players this past week. The New York Giants Victor Cruz showed his humanity by traveling to the town to visit with a family whose son adored him. Coaches have worked thoughts into their media appearances and others have made efforts to support those affected by contributing to scholarship funds. The emotional outpouring of support, as well as the financial, will not mend the lives and hearts completely, but it certainly will be appreciated not just now buy in the dark days ahead for those families and a town whose emotional landscape has forever changed.

So while that all that support has been very personal and much needed, can athletics now provide a platform to help invoke change in areas like gun control and mental health. Syracuse University head men’s basketball coach Jim Boeheim took a bold step this week by speaking out for a change in the legal policies with regard to guns in American society this past week, when he had a national platform around his 900th career win. n the next month, many high level athletes and coaches will have a very unique place to help change public policy on the gun issue by using their traditional and social media platforms to implore millions of others not just to grieve but to act and continue to push for change. Can Notre Dame and Alabama find a way to ask for change around their national championship? Can the NBA teams or athletes on Christmas Day  find a way to get a message out to have people push politicians in an anti-gun campaign? The NFL did an impressive job in pushing messages of healing this week, will it go further?

Now for sure this political issue will not be tackled directly by leagues because of the political sensitivities. You will not see PSA’s with athletes asking for reform of gun laws on ESPN. The NRA, and its supporters both in the corporate world and the political world, are very very strong. However athletes and their ability to reach millions have helped social change in many ways in recent years. From world hunger to sexual abuse to anti-drug messages to anti-bullying campaigns, the influence of athletes around the world as role models has had a profound effect on human events. Coaches have banded together to raise millions for cancer research. Can this cause turn from support of a Connecticut community to one that puts real pressure on officials to change laws and a culture that has accepted the use of guns as instruments of violence for which the Second Amendment was not intended?

As time passes people will go back to their lives and their activities, pausing from time to find to reflect and remember last week’s horrific events. Lobbyists count on that passing of time and the influx of other issues to help people forget about the push for change, which does not take days, it can takes months, if not years.  While politicians and advocacy groups will continue their push, there is no industry that has the constant  stage like athletics, and perhaps no group can keep the push going, subtly and overtly, as coaches and players when they get their chance to speak. Maybe it is orchastrated, like the Miami Heat’s message last weekend standing with their own children, or maybe it is spontaneous like Boeheim’s comments in a press conference.

For sure there will be some who will not think that any political stance has no place in athletics, and there will be others who will feel that guns of any kind do have their place in society. There is always room for debate. However athletes have seen room to be more socially conscious than ever before, whether it is supporting local causes or ones like the Arab Spring. Now they have a chance to invoke change against a powerful lobby to use their influence and their passion that has been expressed this week to push for legal change. Will they do it? Will they care enough about the cause or will it fall back into the mix of other issues that may be closer or easier or more directly relevant to their everyday lives?

Right now the hurting is still very public and the issue is still very top of mind. Athletics through the media have a chance to keep it there until change is invoked in the legal system.  Whether they do or not will be worth watching in the coming months. It will be interesting to follow to see if the power of highly visible and visibly  shaken athletes can move the needle on what is now and again very much a national, if not international hot button.