Over the years, prominent pro athletes have appeared in ads for everything from cigarettes (Babe Ruth and Willie Mays) to insoles (Julius Erving). In 1947, Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier and proved that athletes could be activists as well as endorsers. In the 1960s and ’70s such activism accelerated rapidly, matching the speed of cultural change across the country: Muhammad Ali spoke out against the Vietnam War, John Carlos and Tommie Smith posed with fists raised on the medal stand at the 1968 Olympics, and Billie Jean King advocated for equal treatment of female athletes.
In more recent years, with the power of the internet to spread messages quickly and fan flames, athletes have become political and social pundits too. They can use their significant social media reach to spread their opinions to their fans around the world with only a few keystrokes.
. . .
One year ago this week, news broke that a grand jury decided not to indict Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson for shooting Mike Brown. The news left a chasm between those who were sickened and those who were satisfied. In the midst of protests in the streets and online, New Orleans Saints tight end Benjamin Watson posted a response on his Facebook page. He wrote with passionate pointedness and thoughtful balance. He refused to back away from his Christian convictions while not disrespecting those who disagreed with him. His post went viral (470,000-plus shares to date).
. . .
His perspective and insights drew respect. He wasn’t just some excitable athlete talking about an issue he was unqualified to address—he earned his listenership and readership.
Watson has now written an excellent new book, Under Our Skin: Getting Real about Race—and Getting Free from the Fears and Frustrations that Divide Us (Tyndale Momentum), which expands his thoughts from that Facebook post.
. . .
Watson continues to use his platform for a cause greater than himself. The tensions surrounding racial issues in America make this no easy task, but Watson seems to see the issues clearly, and he has the opportunity, the communication gifts, and the unique perspective and passion God has given him to succeed. And he isn’t abusing the privilege of his platform or wasting it.
Hear from Watson: