Player Make Their Voices Heard (What’s Up With That?)

Updated: April 30, 2014
megaphone fr

Topic A this week is the Donald Sterling Creep Show and commish Adam Silver’s firm and swift punishment. But there’s a whole other angle to this that’s worth discussion:

  • NBA players, past and present, spoke up loudly. The players reportedly discussed boycotting the NBA playoffs if Sterling wasn’t taken out. LeBron said there’s no room in the NBA for Donald Sterling. Many called for Sterling’s ouster from the league. Clipper players did their little silent protest at Game 4, practically spitting as they removed their Clips’ warmups. Can you imagine any of this happening 20 or 40 years ago?

Tony Clark photo by Matthew Bietz on flickr

  • MLB players…following the Biogenesis PED suspensions, in one short offseason MLB players in conjunction with their union spoke up about toughening the drug testing and penalty policies of MLB. And it got done…before spring training. Can you imagine that happening in the days of Marvin Miller or Donald Fehr? Even the hiring of a former player (Tony Clark) as union head instead of a lawyer/labor chief is most telling. Players are taking charge.
  • NCAA players…as noted previously (NCAA: Times They Are A-Changin’ and NCAA’s Future Has Changed Forever), with the Northwestern petition for unionization and other recent NCAA events, players are speaking up and no longer being beholden to an out-of-touch, monolithic NCAA. Regardless of the unionization outcome, players have flushed out the NCAA’s ‘studying’ of the problems. The genie is out of the bottle, change is coming. Can you imagine college athletes taking a stand like this at any time in NCAA history?
  • NFL players…Retired players were able to shame the league into taking responsibility for concussion-related, long-term disabilities through a public campaign of awareness and legal proceedings. As a result the NFL is in the process of providing monetary assistance to retirees and attempting to make the game safer for current players.

Think about it. With all the talk about the 0.01% controlling things with the little guy having no power, we’ve got players…and even college kids…saying, ‘this is how it’s going to be’. Now granted, LeBron James is not a little guy in any sense. But athletes for the first time are making their voices heard collectively, and the resulting change is coming lickety-split. It’s really astounding.

Now there are many factors involved. Players’ agents are telling them they ARE the game, not the owners. Many have long-term guaranteed contracts (note that NFL players with less guaranteed money and short careers are still the most reticent to defy the league). Some have more income from outside their sport than on the field. So for one thing athletes are more secure and emboldened to speak up today.

For another they have the means…the megaphone. I think it’s no coincidence that this is all going on in the age of social media where every person-especially every celebrity-has the ability to broadcast, one-to-many. Not only do athletes now have the tools but social media has spawned an entire democratization of the airwaves and sense of personal empowerment. That’s why they call it ‘disruptive’…expect everything to get turned on its head.


Of course social media is a two-edged sword…every day an athlete goes off on twitter, hits ‘send’ before he thinks, damage is done, tweet is disavowed and removed. It’s like Charles Barkley saying he was misquoted in his own autobiography. Ah, that’s just part of sports-as-entertainment.

But we have to like seeing the little guy (players) take on the big guy (owners) and winning, especially when he has a sense of moral right on his side. These were all worthy fights and positive outcomes.

Now the interesting thing will be to see when the ultimate little guy (the fan) with the most potential power (the purse) will organize to make his voice heard in the face of incompetent, cheap and entrenched ownership. That would be the ultimate justice for us little guys.

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