The League

Leonard Shapiro

Leonard Shapiro

Washington Post sports reporter, editor and columnist who has served on the NFL HOF Selection Committee.

Speak up Players


Good for Brendon Ayanbadejo and his stance on gay marriage, and it wouldn't have mattered to me if he was for it or against it. At least he had an opinion and was not at all hesitant to express it. As a high profile professional athlete, he also has a platform that not enough players want to take advantage of these days.

I speak from a position of some familiarity with outspoken athletes, having had the privilege and the honor of more than occasionally editing columns submitted to The Post's sports section back in the 1980s by the late, great Arthur Ashe. Arthur never hesitated to speak out on the major issues of the day. Not only did he voice an opinion, he joined protests, walked on picket lines, spoke at rallies, wrote with great passion and even allowed himself to be arrested if he felt the cause was just and right.

Compare that to the high profile modern athlete, most of whom seem far more concerned about their endorsement deals being jeopardized if they speak out. Remember Michael Jordan's excuse for not joining the campaign in his native North Carolina of the candidate trying to unseat right wing Sen. Jesse Helms. "Republicans buy sneakers, too," Jordan said at the time, and sadly stayed out of the fray.

Some athletes really can make a difference. Just as an example, I firmly believe there would a female member of Augusta National by now if only Tiger Woods had spoken out five years ago on the club's discriminatory practices. He chose not to get involved, despite his early Nike commercials when he said on camera "there are places I still cannot play."

I don't mean to single out Woods because he's hardly alone in avoiding controversy, the better to keep team management, sponsors and advertisers happy. I just wish these guys would occasionally forget about what it might cost them in the bank account and offer up a well thought out, informed opinion, just like anyone else. There are times they can make a difference. I know Arthur Ashe surely did.

By Leonard Shapiro  |  September 25, 2009; 3:36 PM ET  | Category:  Baltimore Ravens , NFL Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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