Morning, friends. We’re living in interesting times, aren’t we?
The sports world today isn’t the same as it was a week ago. The protests consuming America have swept up sports in their wake, and the result is a level of social awareness and commitment not seen since integration. The balance of power in sports has shifted in massive, foundational ways. Just consider what we’ve seen in the last few days:
The NFL — the most popular American sport, and the one most likely to shrug off shifting social tides — not only acknowledging the presence of a growing social justice movement, but admitting its own wrongdoing in not taking the concerns of black players seriously enough before.
College football players rising up and calling out their coaches, and the coaches apologizing. In the not-too-distant past — like, say, May — a college player who accused his coach of lying the way Marvin Wilson did new Florida State coach Mike Norvell could expect a one-way ticket back to his hometown before nightfall. Now? Now FSU and other institutions are taking the concerns of their players seriously … or they risk watching their players jump to institutions that will.
NASCAR — NASCAR! — committing to the social justice movement through a combination of pledges, protest and “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts on the grid prior to Sunday’s race in Atlanta. For a sport that still has an active subset of fans who bring Confederate flags to races, this was nothing less than revolutionary.
Critics are saying these statements and other, similar ones are being made under duress, an attempt to keep up with the day’s headlines. That’s true on its face; few of these players, teams and leagues had stepped up to this degree before now.
But genuine or coerced, the winds of change are blowing.
Will leagues carry through with the sort of meaningful change they're vowing to right now? Eh … depends on how you define “meaningful.” For some, we'll see significant changes; for others, they'll try to move on from all this as quickly as they can without attracting too much attention.
Change often comes slowly and then all at once, in a dizzying array of statements and actions that can leave everyone spinning. We’re in one of those moments right now as a society, and sports, one way or another, always reflects society. Players get more socially active, teams tolerate less of the bad behavior that’s taken place in the past, leagues work to reshape their image and attract new fans.
Granted, whether you think this change is too much or not enough is up to you. But the change is here. It’s happening. And the next time players take the field or court, the world’s going to look a lot different than it did the last time the scoreboard clock hit zeroes.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him with tips and story ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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