This week, students in our Media Design & Communication course discussed the social and political activism of athletes, and how they would handle a situation if they were the team’s media relations officer. Here are a couple of the student’s viewpoints:
By: Chelsea Kouri
This country is known for the freedom of speech. So when it comes to limiting someone from sharing their opinion, that is not widely accepted to begin with. Just because an athlete is well known does not mean they should not be allowed to share their opinion. Their opinion is usually more influential than others because they are in the public eye. Because they can affect a movement so much, if there is something they truly believe it in makes sense that they would want to share that opinion to try and help the cause. Not allowing someone to do this is against the amendment and they should be allowed to do it as long as they are doing so respectfully. However, when you are an employee, organizations can put policies in place to try and avoid certain issues. I believe athletes should be allowed to share their opinion but this should not take place when they are officially representing the team. Athletes are always connected the organization they play for, that is just how fan associate them, so this clarification is difficult. They should share their opinion on their social media not in a press conference or on the floor during a game or practice. It is their right to speak but it is the NBAs right to put policies in place to prevent things that may not be appropriate.
By no means will having athletes make their opinions known outside of the organization make things any easier. As a Media Relations employee trying to be vigilant about highly sensitive issues seems like it would be very difficult. When an athlete shares their opinion anywhere it will come back to the team. Questions will start flowing in about, Is that how the organization feels? How is this going to effect the team? And so on. Whether it just gets discussed on sports reports or brought up in interviews later on, it will be noticed and some one will want answers. If the athlete shared their thoughts on their own time it is easy to reply to those with, that is the athletes opinion, it does not reflect any one else’s opinion in the organization. With the racial issues going on these days it is likely that athletes will have different opinions than the owners so I do not find it fair that they not be allowed to speak up just because they disagree with others in the organization, no matter their position. None the less, if there is a policy set in place I believe the policy should be followed. On first thought I think there should be a policy that deals with issues such as these. Unfortunately, the cases vary so much I would have to look at them on a case by case basis. It should be made clear that there will be ramifications for social activism during team events but the severity can influence what the result is.
As mentioned it would be preferred that they express this opinion when they are not working. In the article in the required reading, “‘I Can’t Breathe’: Will Sports TV Viewers and Sponsors Be Turned Off By Activist Athletes?”, it is said that the athletes were not disciplined but it sounds like there is a rule for on court attire (McCarthy, 2014). If there is a rule then I believe it should be followed. As multiple fans commented, if the players know the rule and decide to continue to express their opinion in this way then they are probably willing to accept the consequences. Same thing for if there is a team policy. If they express the opinion as an individual no punishment should occur but if they express it during a team event then the policy should be followed. So in the case of wearing a shirt that reflects an opinion I think whatever the consequence is that goes with on court attire should be followed.
McCarthy, Michael (2014, December 12). ‘I Can’t Breathe’:Will Sports TV Viewers and Sponsors Be Turned Off By Activist Athletes? Retrieved from http://www.sportingnews.com/nba/news/eli-manning-lebron-james-eric-garner-michael-brown-nfl-nba-activist-athletes-new-york-giants-cleveland-cavaliers-georgetown-hoyas/1iu8uywczsuei1l8vyyjgoi3u5
By: Lauren Lepkowski
Mike Leach, Washington State University’s head football coach publicly endorsed Donald Trump for president and gave a speech last month to support Trump. Leach met Trump back in 2004 and has stayed in close contact with his friend in the years since. Leach made it clear that supporting Trump was his decision and opinion and that it does not reflect the views of Washington State University. Leach has kept a framed picture of Trump on his office wall since his inception at WSU and does not feel it has ever affected his recruiting, nor will his endorsement of Trump cause any recruiting problems in the future. Leach feels that sharing his political opinions is good for inciting political conversation, especially among his players and allows for an open discussion to be had.
Public universities where employees are employed by the state should have rules and regulations regarding their political endorsements. “At Texas A&M, the employment contract for football coach Kevin Sumlin says that Sumlin “will not publicly endorse any political figure or cause.” This has been a university policy for A&M employees since 2008.” (Schrotenboer, 2016) Washington State University did not have a policy in place when Mike Leach publicly endorsed Donald Trump, but should create a policy this summer for the upcoming school year before the election. One of the largest issues is that Washington State University has almost 30,000 students and 2,200 staff members who all have different opinions, and when Mike Leach came out to endorse Trump he blanketed his opinions to the liking of all WSU staff and students. Professors, staff, alumni and students alike spoke out explaining this was not their opinions and to not generalized Leach’s endorsement to all Washington State University individuals. As the media relations professional for WSU I would come out with a statement that explains the opinions of any WSU employee does not represent the overall views and beliefs of the university. Further it would explain that Washington State University does not politically endorse any candidate, but encourages the discussion among students and staff in the classroom. It needs to be noted to the public that the university does not shut down or discourage political conversations or activism, but rather cannot sanction a university employee publicly endorsing a candidate while on university payroll. A meeting would be held with all head coaches to warn against them about publicly engaging in politics and how it could hurt their programs and the school. Further I would speak with Mike Leach and ask that he please not involve himself publicly in politics while employed by the university, followed by the above mention to create a policy to limit the political activism of university state employees. One main focus in handling the situation would to make sure other coaches and staff members know this will not be tolerated as university employees (create a new policy) so that it does not happen again. Another focus would be to alert the public that Mike Leach’s opinions are his own and are no way connected to the opinions of Washington State University or any of its staff or students. Finally, it is important to reassure the public that WSU is supportive of free speech and open to its students and staff discussing political matters, just not employees publicly endorsing political candidates or views.
Schrotenboer, B. (2016, June 18). Political football: Mike Leach, Donald Trump and coaches on the stump. Retrieved from USA Today: http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/ncaaf/2016/06/07/political-football-mike-leach-donald-trump-and-coaches-stump/85499388/