With the 2016 presidential election looming, people across the country are engaged in heated debate concerning the many components of society in the United States. Discussions regarding themes such as gun control, racism, “climate change,” and freedom of speech are all topics being vigorously deliberated upon. As is our constitutional right, we as individuals are free to express our opinions and viewpoints without fear of retribution … to a point. The key here is “as individuals.” There have been numerous incidences, across all spectrums of the workplace, where the comments expressed by an individual have been construed to be representative of that person’s place of employment. Certainly businesses have a vested interest in presenting and maintaining a positive public image and if an employee does or says something contrary to that image in a public manner, the company is well within their purview to take action.
So the question is, how does that concept relate to the highly visible personalities of current professional athletes? After all, many of the sporting world’s elite athletes command followings of thousands if not millions in some cases. Should professional athletes be allowed, by their respective teams, to publicly voice their personal opinions on sensitive issues under the mantle of their employers?
Recently, players on the Minnesota Lynx women’s basketball team wore shirts in support of the “Black Lives Matter” organization and were simultaneously praised and condemned by factions on both ends of the political spectrum. NBA commissioner Adam Silver suggested his “preference would be that players adhere to our uniform rules, both in the NBA and the WNBA.” He further indicated he “would greatly prefer that the players use the platform they’re given, social media, press conferences, media in locker rooms, however they want to do it, to make their political points of view be known.” What is the correct course of action? Without question, opinions will vary.
By Dr. Vincent K. Ramsey
Dr. Ramsey is the Chair of Sports Exercise Science at the United States Sports Academy, and can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.