AS HOSTS OF ESPN’s annual awards show, The ESPYs, in June, local sports stars Sue Bird, Megan Rapinoe and Russell Wilson used the platform, and the moment, to further the conversations around racial equality and police accountability. Rapinoe has continued those kinds of conversations this summer on her new HBO show, “Seeing America With Megan Rapinoe.”
Athletes, we know, do have a significant influence on public opinion, and especially with those fans who follow them closely. “When athletes publicly adopt a cause, it’s hard to dismiss,” University of Washington political science professor Christopher Parker told me recently. “They advance the cause based on their visibility and credibility. If people identify with the athletes and/or they respect them, the message will resonate.”
And so it is encouraging that Bird, Rapinoe and Wilson are using their voices to try to influence change. They aren’t the only ones, of course, and it was also encouraging and informative for me — a white, middle-aged sportswriter — to engage with white athletes and white coaches about the issues surrounding our contemporary civil-rights movement.
In this week’s cover story, you’ll read more about conversations I had with two men in particular: Braden Bishop, an outfielder for the Mariners, and Dave Miller, the Hall of Fame football coach at Lakes High School near Tacoma. They are not household names like Bird, Rapinoe or Wilson; they don’t have a massive following on social media; they don’t have TV shows to broadcast their message.
What they do have is a willingness to engage with their teams in smaller, behind-the-scenes settings on the issues of race and systemic inequalities. They are eager to learn, and they want to be part of the solutions, big or small — and those intentions are just as important as any scripted message the megastars might have. “I just think we need to lift each other up right now,” Miller told me. He was speaking specifically about his team at Lakes High, but it’s a message that hits home with the issues we’re facing as a country, too.