Multidimensional Athletes
Gus Merwin
amarc543@uwsp.edu Twitter @gusmerwin

Muhammad Ali refused to serve in the United States Army during the Vietnam War on the grounds that the war was against his Islamic beliefs.

At the 1968 Olympics, U.S. sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos held their gloved fists in the air during the medal ceremony in what Smith described as a human rights salute.

Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe has become a key advocate in the fight for marriage equality.

An athlete having opinions, feelings, and emotions is far from a new thing, but in the socially connected world we live in it’s easier for them to convey something that otherwise my stay inside their head.

Multiple athletes took to Twitter in the days leading up to Tuesday’s election to talk politics, endorsements, or just to encourage people to vote. Clippers point guard Chris Paul, former NBA player and current ESPN analyst Jalen Rose, NASCAR driver Matt Kenseth, and New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz are just a few personalities within the sports world that showed some political interest on social media.

Is that their right? Of course it is. Social media gives athletes an opportunity to show their thousands of followers that they are not defined by the sport they play, they are not one dimensional jocks whose only drive is to win.

Athletes can tweet about their games, what they had for dinner, or how they are spending their day off from practice, but as soon as they mention something more controversial than Jimmy Johns, social media explodes.

After the Packers lost to the Seahawks on Monday Night Football, some players went to the internet to vent their frustrations. Guards TJ Lang and Josh Sitton gained thousands of followers that night after going on Twitter tirades. That night Lang provided us with an expletive laced nugget that became the most retweeted in history.

Rookie defensive end Jerel Worthy was also attacked by people critical of his reaction to the game deciding call following the loss; including a kid I went to high school with. His outspoken support of President Obama also drew criticism Tuesday after election results had been reported.

When people agree with something an athlete has said, they’ll reply, pander, and beg for a retweet.

When people don’t agree with something an athlete has said, they’ll complain, swear, and tell the athlete to stick to the game they are paid to play.

Even reporters aren’t safe. ESPN Milwaukee’s Packer beat writer Jason Wilde is a constant target for criticism whenever he ventures outside of the realm of sports.

America is wildly divided. As soon as an unfavorable opinion is presented it is immediately swarmed and dissected, and the source is belittled and badgered.

Athletes are not political pundits, they’re just people with opinions like us. Instead of telling them to stick to their day job, they should be encouraged to express themselves and form an identity off the field.

When people of influence, like athletes, take action and express their views fans take notice. Hopefully that leads to a higher level of informed involvement by people who otherwise would not bother with social issues.