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Kemba Walker calls on athletes to speak up on social issues

Walker’s had enough of athletes staying silent on social issues, and he wants to help.

Utah Jazz v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Charlotte Hornets point guard Kemba Walker opened up about gun violence, police shootings, and other social issues in an op-ed for the Players Tribune Tuesday morning. And in his words?

Enough is enough.

Walker’s fed up with not just the tragedies themselves, but athletes and people with influence staying silent when they clearly have a lot to say. He credited Hornets majority owner Michael Jordan with inspiring him to come forward and voice his opinion.

How can I help?

That’s what I’m thinking when I see Michael Jordan, the greatest to ever play the game of basketball and my team’s owner, speak up and take decisive action to help bring Americans together in a time of crisis.

Walker applauded the many WNBA players who raised awareness of racial bias in America — whom, as you may remember, were initially fined by the league before social pressure forced the WNBA to rescind the fines — and made it clear that he wants to see more athletes speak up, too. After all, there’s a long history of athletes putting pressure on sports governing bodies and governments to make substantive changes for the better. Walker acknowledged this.

Sports history is filled with examples of athletes who have refused to remain silent in the face of injustice. From Muhammad Ali to Tommie Smith and John Carlos to Jim Brown to Billie Jean King — we’ve seen what it looks like when athletes push for social change.

Muhammad Ali denounced the Vietnam War and advocated for racial justice. Tommie Smith and John Carlos used the Olympic podium to raise awareness about the Civil Rights Movement. Jim Brown has spoken out about racial issues in America throughout his career. Billie Jean King advocated for gender equality and was the first prominent athlete to come out as lesbian.

Each faced horrific backlash as a result of speaking up, but each also helped lubricate meaningful social change. Walker knows this, and admitted that it won’t be easy.

I know a lot of people might have strong opinions about the injustice we’ve seen recently, and I can definitely understand why some folks wouldn’t want to say anything — because of how their fans might react, or how people might view them. Sponsorships could be jeopardized. Money is on the line. It’s a risk, no doubt. But, let’s be real: Those risks aren’t much in comparison to the risks that many people in communities across the nation take every day in trying to bring about change.

Yesterday, Chris Barnewall brought up one of my favorite Jordan quotes.

“Republicans buy shoes, too.”

It’s an admission that being vocal often comes at the expense of losing money and status. Far too often, athletes stay mum on things they have strong feelings about in fear of alienating potential customers or fans. Walker doesn’t want that to be the case anymore.

I know we’re not politicians. I get that. But we’re also not just athletes.

Time will tell if other athletes rise to the call. I hope they do.