North Texas Daily

The separation of athletes from their humanity

The separation of athletes from their humanity

The separation of athletes from their humanity
June 17
15:00 2021

On May 30, Cole Buckley, a 21-year-old Massachusetts native and Boston Celtics fan, was placed in handcuffs shortly after throwing a water bottle at Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving.

The assault came after the Nets beat the Celtics 141-126 in game 4 of the NBA playoffs, and though the water bottle just barely missed Irving’s head, the incident called for an important (and frankly, overdue) conversation to be had. 

With their fame, money and a seemingly fun yet unconventional occupation, it isn’t difficult to be envious of the lives professional athletes have. People are quick to assume that because their life is so ideal, it is also easy. Because of this, there is almost a disconnect or rather a lack of empathy that is present when discussing these players. There is a failure to take into account the physical and emotional toll this type of job entails, hence the reason Buckley felt entitled enough to throw that water bottle at Irving. 

Like Buckley, many sports fans play into this notion that athletes only serve one purpose — and this purpose does not and should not extend beyond entertainment. When athletes cross this social boundary forcefully given to them, there is an even more harmful idea that they should be punished through verbal, and now physical, abuse.

A clear example of this is how Colin Kaepernick was treated in 2016. Kaepernick was crucified for daring to step outside this box and use his platform to bring awareness to the issue of police brutality. Kaepernick’s jersey was burned by fans, he was criticized heavily by millions and ended up losing his job for crossing this boundary. 

Years later, LeBron James was criticized for essentially the same thing, being told by Laura Ingraham to “shut up and dribble” when he spoke about politics and the harmful actions of former President Donald Trump. She went on to say that she was in no way interested in getting political input from someone with James’ salary. 

The amount of money athletes like Kaepernick and James make does grant them financial privilege but it does not eliminate the racism and prejudice they face as Black men in America. This “shut up and take it” attitude that players are expected to have is damaging. It forces them to be almost like robots: emotionless entities that are only good for one thing. Athletes should be allowed to express themselves and voice their concerns because they are human and their occupation does not take that away. 

And the fact that many sports fans and the media are so quick to strip these athletes of their humanity explains why athletes like Naomi Osaka have taken a stand against the abuse and the absurd expectations. Osaka refusing to participate in her media obligation due to her mental health is only one example of athletes prioritizing themselves and their wellbeing.

Though this mentality is incredible and should be adopted by more players, the responsibility of protecting athletes should also be placed on their respective league. Being abused, silenced and assaulted should not be seen as something that is “part of the job.”

Featured Illustration by J. Robynn Aviles

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Briahna Henry

Briahna Henry

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