Respect the power of athletes |

Respect the power of athletes


Last week, a series of protests by students at the University of Missouri were met with platitudes and empty gestures. Jonathan Butler, a graduate student, vowed to go on a hunger strike until University President Tim Wolfe resigned, citing Wolfe’s inaction toward several recent racially-charged incidents on campus.

Butler, who was also active in the Ferguson protests, began his hunger strike on Monday, Nov. 2, saying he wouldn’t eat until Wolfe was gone or he died. As late as Sunday, Nov. 8, Wolfe had said nothing about stepping down.

So, what changed between Sunday afternoon and Monday morning?

Saturday night, the Mizzou football players met and decided to boycott all football-related activities until Butler’s demands were met and Wolfe was ousted. Sunday, the team skipped practice and coaches and players alike shared their support for the Concerned Student 1950 (named for the first year black students were admitted to the University) movement on social media.

Details of Mizzou’s game contract for a Nov. 14 game against BYU were released, showing that the school would forfeit the game and have to pay $1 million if the players continued their boycott. Suddenly, change began to take place and Wolfe had resigned by Monday morning. Missouri Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin has also announced he will resign on Jan. 1.

Though race relations at Mizzou are still far from perfect, the wheels of change are turning, thanks in large part to Butler and the actions of the football team.

Athletes are often idolized, placed on pedestals for their ability to kick or throw a ball, their ability to run at lightning-fast speeds for great distances or their ability to slide down snow faster than the average person. But what those athletes do while on that pedestal can greatly affect their communities.

As the home of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association, Park City has a fair share of famous winter sports athletes who call it home. Many of those athletes use their status to help others.

In 2011, ski jumper Lindsey Van discovered she was a bone marrow match for a man suffering from leukemia. Despite having never met the man, Van donated twice that year and now routinely encourages people to join the bone marrow donation registry.

Recently, Nordic combined athlete Bryan Fletcher founded ccThrive, a charity that aims to help childhood cancer survivors thrive and live full lives (see Tom Kelly’s Behind the Gold column in the Nov. 4 edition of The Park Record). Fletcher battled leukemia as a child and now wants to help others in similar situations pursue their dreams and goals.

As a group, several USSA athletes host an annual Fast and Female event at the Center of Excellence, where athletes gather with girls to help promote females in sport. And this summer, another group of athletes traveled to Mexico with the Hope Sports organization to build a house for a needy family.

While we enjoy watching athletes win games and rack up medals, it’s important to realize the influence they wield in other aspects of our society. Whether it’s one person or an entire team, never underestimate the power of athletes to affect change in their communities.

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