Without realising it, we may just be going through a slight power shift in the world of professional sport. Over the past few weeks we’ve seen the rise of athlete-empowered movements, not driven by club contracts or CSR initiatives, but instead directed by the unprompted passion and personal agendas of those individuals. With vocal empowerment, clubs, federations and entire sports have had to react, respond and be led by these trailblazers.
Step forward Marcus Rashford; need we say anymore. From an impassioned social campaign to forcing a government policy u-turn, it’s been quite the week for the Manchester United striker. The driving force behind his campaign? Not a club-enforced crusade, but his own personal experiences as a child. A shining example of fighting your own corner for the good of wider society, and all at the age of just 22 years old. He may not be due to play in front of a packed stadium anytime soon, but he’s already won a considerable number of new fans without stepping foot on a pitch.
‘Man of the moment’ is how Rashford’s club described him on Twitter. A statement that could easily be held true for Lewis Hamilton over the past few weeks. Never one to shy away from speaking his mind, the six-time F1 World Champion has truly led from the front as an army of one, holding his entire sport and his fellow drivers accountable for their silence around the Black Lives Matter campaign. Just like Rashford, Hamilton’s vocal cause is driven by his childhood experience, an emotive and incredibly personal subject that provides the fire behind his statements.
In both Rashford and Hamilton, we’ve seen two highly-publicised movements that have reached the living rooms of homes throughout the world. But they are just two examples of athlete-empowered calls for change.
Another two athletes on point with their efforts have been none other than Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Federer has served up €1 million for hospitals across Switzerland, while Spanish rival and friend Nadal has raised over €11 million to help over one million Spaniards during the past few weeks. It comes as no surprise that both men are displaying efforts of heroism, continuing to lead the way from the top.
Over the pond in the USA, NBA players are taking action off the court. Athletes such as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Love, Zion Williamson, and Blake Griffin announced they would be covering the salaries of hourly workers at sporting arenas across the USA. This demonstrates the team spirit within these basketballers as they look after those who are missing out on crucial paychecks.
It definitely can be said that the loudest athlete voices in recent weeks have been those speaking up against racism and police brutality. Following on from Lewis Hamilton’s actions, Lebron James and Ebony Rainford-Brent have vocalised their beliefs around keeping racial inequality conversations flowing and continuing to support the Black Lives Matter campaign. It just goes to show how sports superstars can leverage their high-level stardom and empower change across the globe.
Distance from training and competition has not stopped athletes reducing the distance from people. They are continuing to be the main drivers behind support, relief and education efforts in a time of quarantine. Athletes are leading the charge in change during this time of uncertainty and are giving the world people to look towards.
As the world endures the effects of coronavirus and in some ways feels more isolated, sports personalities are taking the lead in inspiring people through measures of good deed. Many are playing a substitute position in order to bring about an encouraging change and are not shying away in a period where leaders are required.
It’s very easy to criticise sports stars for doing or saying the wrong thing. Their lives are played out in the public eye much of the time, and causes for good are often led by clubs and leagues, and not driven by the athletes themselves. During the past few weeks, we’ve witnessed a shift; athletes are fighting for the causes that are close to them, and as a result teams and leagues are having to sit up, take note and follow suit.
Sport is far more than just a platform for entertainment, and athletes are far more than just pawns in a game of chess. As has been displayed, empowered athletes are a force for good and can generate conversation and global societal change. For that alone, we can all be very grateful.