Heroes, role models, inspirations: three phrases that describe today’s athletes. Not many people have as much influence and power in our society than professional athletes- especially on our youth. When a professional athlete gets showered in $20 million per year and a kid growing up poor is wondering if he will get any shower at all, there is no reason for him to not want to follow in an athlete’s footsteps. There are a number of professional athletes that have made it out of their own impoverished neighborhoods such as Allen Iverson, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
To many of these kids, these athletes represent success, happiness and most importantly, escaping the imminent poverty of their own community. The economic privilege attained by these athletes gives them an uncanny influence on the public. Now when these people of power and great influence take to Twitter or Facebook to voice their opinions on racial issues, similarly, how can you blame a kid for following the athlete’s mindset?
In early 2012 as many of us know, Trayvon Martin- who was African-American- was tragically killed by a member of the community watch program: George Zimmerman- who is half white and half Hispanic. As the story goes, there were a number of break-ins in Martin and Zimmerman’s neighborhood. Zimmerman noticed a suspicious character (Martin) was walking around aimlessly in the neighborhood. After a violent altercation Martin was fatally shot by Zimmerman.
This Zimmerman-Martin story quickly became an issue of race. Did Zimmerman really have a reason to kill Martin or was it just because he was African-American? Should this story really have gained national attention or is it just African-Americans pulling the “Race Card?” The “Race Card” is a common colorblind tactic used by white Americans to defer the issues of racism in our society. Instead of addressing the racial differences and issues within our society “Pulling the Race Card” means that a certain race (African-Americans in this case) is saying a certain act was caused or provoked strictly because of race. Whites often see it as looking for attention on a problem that was possibly caused by racial prejudice that is not really there or does not deserve any serious attention. By saying, “Oh they’re just pulling the race card,” white people defer the responsibility of answering and defending what Zimmerman did and more importantly why he did it. Zimmerman very well could have just killed Martin because of the color of his skin which would lead to an even louder uproar and bigger issue than white people wish to deal with and address. “Pulling the race card” is an excuse they can hide behind to downplay and ignore the reasoning for why Zimmerman did what he did.
This story gained national coverage very quickly and George Zimmerman was soon a household name. There is of course much more detail and complexity to this story and whether or not the shooting was justified, but that is not what my focus is. The focus is what transpired when Zimmerman was acquitted of all charges: media frenzy and uproar, specifically by our athletes.
Why specifically focus on what athletes had to say about this issue? As stated earlier, because their economic privilege and image of success possess a nearly dangerous influence to our youth. Every kid out there “wants to be like Mike.” Therefore, athletes’ views and opinions are black-plague contagious to the sponge-like minds of their die-hard fans anxiously waiting to soak up any Tweet or Status that will help them closer emulate their idol, and have their shot at success.
I understand that there are many great athlete-role models out there; most of which handle themselves with class and give back to the community. But as a person of such influence they need to realize who their audience is on such a public forum like Twitter. It is all of those little kids wanting the same success they have and will believe that the path to such success is by thinking and doing exactly what an athlete puts on Twitter. If an athlete puts out a violent tweet all it is doing is spreading the “violence first” mentality to all of the kids that follow him on Twitter. Any kid in their right mind wants the same fortune and success as, for example, an athlete like Michael Jordan. If Jordan tweets about how he is such a violent person and violence is the answer, of course kids are going to abide by that because they idolize him and want to be just like him and want his same fortune.
There are a number of Tweets from athletes- all very influential in their own rights- that came out with the acquittal of Zimmerman’s charges that I want to look at and analyze:
The first few tweets start off rather mild. Ones of utter disbelief:
These tweets are by Dwyane Wade, current NBA player, and Shaquille O’Neal former NBA star and current NBA analyst; both very influential athletes. These tweets are harmless and offer no direct action or negative implication to anyone who reads it. They are simply stating how they felt about the case. But as you can imagine, the nature of the tweets varies.
Some are sympathetic to Martin’s Family:
|Although there are many negatives to tweeting about the Zimmerman-Martin case upcoming, it is important to point out the positives, especially for our youth. Dara N. Byrne writes in her chapter of Learning Race and Ethnicity about how online discussion forums offer a great place for races to come together, organize, and decipher their oppression from all over the world and offer motions for change. This is what Twitter along with the influence of athletes offers here. Their mindset of change rather than violence is a great thing not only for African-Americans but all races. And Twitter helps them send that mindset to countless others. Those examples are as follows:|
Finally we get to our prime examples of the negatives of tweeting about the Zimmerman-Martin case. (Some of the tweets were deleted which is why they look different than the previous examples)
All of those tweets do nothing but make the problem worse than it is. They spread the violence and tragedy that already occurred. For example if a child follows Roddy White on twitter and sees that violence is the answer, he will start to handle race issues in the same violent manner. He wants the same success in the NFL as Roddy, so who is to blame our youth for wanting to act and think like him?
To end, The Martin case was widely about race and prejudice. Did Zimmerman have grounds to kill Martin? Or was it just because he was black? As a kid, you have no notion of right or wrong, what prejudice is, nonetheless how to handle racism. So you go to people who influence you the most on how to handle it. Like athletes. And when these athletes have a very negative way of solving these race issues it has a very negative effect on our youth and society as a whole. Athletes have a lot of influence on our youth because of their success and economic privilege, especially when it comes to race issues because they went through those same struggles when they grew up in those same impoverished communities. Social media is how they connect with the youth. Apparently, walking around the streets of Sanford, Florida can be pretty dangerous as made evident by Trayvon Martin, but calling for more violence for racial issues on social media by such an influential person can prove to be just as dangerous.