• Peter Burtnett

Highlighting athletes making an impact

Courtesy: AP Photo (WTOK)

Peter Burtnett

Co-founder of Impact Sports

As the world continues to grapple with COVID-19 and fight for equality and against social injustice, many athletes have stood up to make a difference in their communities.

While the focus often goes to superstars like J.J. Watt or LeBron James for donations to COVID-19 relief or campaigning for social reform, athletes like Mississippi State football running back Kylin Hill have stood up for what they believe in and have already made a difference by speaking up.

For Hill and many others in Mississippi (and across the country), the state flag of Mississippi is inflammatory for the black community, with the Confederate flag in the top left corner of the state flag being a painful reminder of the historical persecution that the flag represents.

When Hill tweeted, "Either change the flag or I won't be representing this state anymore [100 emoji] & I meant that .. I'm tired," on June 22, the push to remove the Confederate flag from the Mississippi state flag took off.

Just five days later, the Mississippi House voted to remove the emblem from their flag. Without Hill and the platform that he has earned for himself by playing football at the highest level, the removal of the emblem may have taken more time, if it was ever removed.

Like Hill, Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford used his platform to push for a new plan to provide meals for children in need in the United Kingdom. After months of campaigning, Rashford was finally able to see a new plan put into effect that allows £15 a week in school meal vouchers to kids in need. The plan also carries over into the summer to help families affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and showed the power of when people come together for a cause.

Rashford tweeted, "I don’t even know what to say. Just look at what we can do when we come together, THIS is England in 2020," when the decision was announced on June 16. The change and influence that the 22-year old forward has grabbed the attention of Jay-Z, who signed Rashford to his management agency, Roc Nation Sports, in the hopes to turn him into a "global campaigner."

Hill and Rashford are just two of the many athletes who have made an impact in their communities since the world got turned upside down in early 2020. When the "normal" gets turned around, everyday people turn to people with a platform or a voice, like celebrities or athletes.

The pressure to take a chance and make a stand is something that not all athletes or celebrities do right. Sometimes, their motive is off or the method they use to make changes is wrong. However, in the cases of both Hill and Rashford (along with many other athletes), they fought for a cause they strongly believed in and used the support from their fans and constituents to enact change.

Now, as sports begin to restart or put restart plans into motion, athletes will have the opportunity to get back to doing what they love, they will also be able to continue fighting for change and spread a message against racism and in solidarity in battling COVID-19.

In the Premier League, the teams and officials have recognized a moment of silence for all the lives lost to COVID-19 before taking a knee in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, with players like Paul Pogba or Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang have raised a fist in the air to strength and resistance against racism.

In the NBA, players will be allowed to replace their last names on the back of their jerseys with a social justice message, such as, "I Can't Breathe," or "Black Lives Matter."

With MLS set to return to games on July 8, MLB set for July 23, and the NBA for July 30, the United States will soon be watching live sports in action again. When these sports return, though the atmosphere will be very different and perhaps even odd, the platform and voice given to the athletes will be more valuable than every as the world tries to heal from a vast pandemic and make strides toward equality and justice for all.

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