Column: New Generation of Athletes Learn With Great Platforms Come Great Responsibility

By Drew Stevens (@lookwhatdrewdid)

It’s as simple as this, Aaron Rodgers.

If you no longer want any part of an organization whose general manager has begun to dig your grave even as you continue to withstand the rigors of professional quarterbacking with flying colors, then you should most certainly look for a change of scenery. You see how well things are working out for Tom Brady after he ended his longterm relationship with New England, right?

He found greener — and far warmer — pastures in Tampa Bay. Now while it may be tempting to move across country where friendlier climates and your childhood favorite 49ers play, remember, that team blew its chance with you years ago. Besides, the coldest dish of revenge you could serve that bay green and cheese gold-colored front office would be aligning yourself with its sworn enemy, the Chicago Bears.

That’s how you retaliate against Brian Gutekunst, who had the audacity to trade up to select Jordan Love in last year’s NFL Draft, and head coach Matt LaFleur, who was a little too eager to co-sign that move and chose Mason Crosby’s leg, not your invaluable arm, when it mattered most. After all, when you have a chance to really stick it to your ex you don’t date a stranger. You round the bases with the best friend.

Think about it.

Not only would you move from the hallowed ground at Lambeau Field to that at Soldier Field, but you’d also go from being one of the city’s most hated visitors to one of its most beloved residents a la Dennis Rodman.

Plus, you love it here. Or at least that’s what I took from how you talked about the chills you feel before game time listening to both Jim Cornelison belt out the national anthem and Bears fans equally resounding reaction. “Those tingles over the years have made that place a really special environment,” you said in December. “And I do have a lot of respect for the organization, the fan base, their team.”

And we for you, albeit begrudgingly.

But you can’t really blame us for that though, can you? I mean, you did author a 35-16 beat down with your 240 yards and four touchdowns just a few days after speaking so highly of practically all things Chicago. Not to mention that was the 10th victory of your career in the Windy City in the 13 times you’ve played here. Hard feelings are even harder to shake when they’re mixed with the envy of watching your arch-rival swap one hall-of-fame signal caller for another while our carousel of mediocrity at that position continues to turn nonstop.

You can change that. You can rip that ride from its lousy rails. It’ll take some convincing, maybe even a little acting on your part. You’re pretty believable in those State Farm commercials. How good are you at faking or threatening retirement?

As far as compensation goes, tell Gutekunst we can offer the 20th overall pick in this year’s draft and future first-round picks in each of the next two as well. There figures to be a nice crop of blue chip offensive lineman this summer. Something for him to keep in mind given his franchise left tackle, David Bakhtiari, will be playing the rest of his career on a surgically-repaired knee. Also, considering how Kevin King had two touchdowns scored on him and drew a crippling defensive pass interference penalty that essentially robbed you of the chance to play in your second Super Bowl, it seems an upgrade at cornerback is in order. We’ve got a promising one in Jaylon Johnson he might be interested in, too.

If that package doesn’t move him, perhaps we can throw in the tag-and-trade of Allen Robinson. We’d much rather have the two of you here, but if we must sacrifice our most lethal offensive threat then so be it. You’re that special to us. Even today, just a handful of months from beginning your 17th year in the NFL.

Look. Breaking up is hard. There’s no two ways about it. But once you finish sopping up the best comfort food our city has to offer, you’ll adjust. You’ll see that while the sum of the Bears’ current weapons don’t yet compare to that of Davante Adams, Aaron Jones and Robert Tonyan, you’ve had far less to work with in your career than David Montgomery, Cole Kmet and Darnell Mooney.

None of this is to say you’d find the type of immediate success that Brady’s found with the Buccaneers. What it does mean is your arrival would, quite frankly, send an already rabid fanbase over the moon; push our mockery of a front office into credible standing; and our overworked defense into more favorable situations.

If nothing else, how satisfying would it be to flip the league’s oldest rivalry on its head, to force Gutekunst and LaFleur to forever rue the day they chose Love?

In Green Bay you had to escape the shadow of Brett Farve — who, against conventional wisdom, was cast out to the Jets of all teams after reaching near-deity status as a Cheeshead, his association with the Packers being the only one that can rival yours post-Bart Starr. Here, in Chicago, you’d cast a shadow as far as our franchise’s list of starting quarterbacks is long before you even threw your first pass in dark navy and orange.

The offseason is long. Our patience for a player your caliber has been woefully longer.

Just give it some thought.

Ok?

In a period of overall inaction for the larger sports leagues which we ritually follow, individual professional athletes from around the world have readily tapped into their respective platforms to become among the most passionate and recognizable mouthpieces in protest for the progression of social justice.

The ongoing loss of Black lives to police brutality and a system riddled with pitfalls and roadblocks, laid out effectively to protect the long-existing state of affairs, has emboldened a new generation of celebrity protest that is as amplified as any single corner of the current movement for civil rights, or the more specific Black Lives Matter Movement.

In the backdrop of this socially turbulent climate exists a philosophical, and oftentimes polarizing, discussion of whether or not the Black sports figures with whom we most closely align ourselves and rely on to briefly flee the regularly-scheduled program of our own lives should volunteer their voices and join, full-throated, in concert with the rest of us to support the cause.

I was formerly of the mindset that athletes deserve to be given carte blanche in their decision to publicly address issues specifically affecting the communities in which they were raised and, in general, the world at-large. But, time and present-day circumstances have shifted my perspective.

Professional athletes, particularly those who have ascended to iconic stature, inherit a certain measure of responsibility to advocate for the very people with whom they bear resemblance — either by appearance, adolescent consequence or both. And, by virtue of the distinct leverage they wield to tip the scales of public opinion and galvanize the establishment to enact tangible change, they should not only feel empowered but also obliged to do so.

It’s a substantial cross to bear, to be sure, what with endorsement dollars and corporate reputations — or in the much-publicized case of former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick and less-advertised cases of former NBA guards Craig Hodges and Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, playing careers — at stake. But at a time when this country’s most vile features have been mercilessly reflected back at itself and in a society where even the wittiest, most physically gifted and intellectually sound among us encounter hurdles en route to a seat at the table, it’s crucial that modern-day athletes persist to ignore the misconceived notion spewed from the mouth of Laura Ingraham toward NBA frontman LeBron James that he, and presumably his brethren-in-sports, should “shut up and dribble.”

In the two years that have passed since the Fox News host’s provocative comments, James has opened the I Promise School in his hometown of Akron, Ohio — an accomplishment he called the most important of his professional career — continued to routinely offer his opinion on controversial topics and, earlier this month, established More Than a Vote, an organization composed of other prominent black athletes and entertainers, that seeks to tackle voter suppression and inspire others to cast ballots in November en lieu of recent racial injustices. James’ former Cleveland Cavaliers teammate and current Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving has become immersed in the movement for change, too.

Irving, who serves as the Vice President of the National Basketball Players Association, helped to spearhead a coalition of players from both the NBA and WNBA in petition of next month’s planned restart in Orlando and the disproportionate number of black coaches and front-office employees in the NBA in comparison to the makeup of its rosters.

Meanwhile, in a sport in which he currently has no black counterpart and is just the seventh such driver in its history, Bubba Wallace courageously called for NASCAR to do an about-face on its long-standing relationship with the Confederate flag. Two days later, NASCAR accepted Wallace’s challenge and banned the display of what is widely-regarded as the symbol of white supremacy from its races.

Wallace, James, Irving, and Kaepernick dared to speak out for what they believed in. So, too, did the social activists and legendary athletes — Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jim Brown, and Muhammad Ali — before them.

While some may dismiss the involvement of our sports figures in social-political issues as a fad or deem it unnecessary altogether, no one can deny the attention owed to their celebrity and its profound capacity to effect change.

After all, as ESPN “First Take” co-host Max Kellerman bluntly pointed out last week when explaining why sports and entertainment leagues should care about social justice, “these are the black people that white people seem to care about it.”

One response to “Column: New Generation of Athletes Learn With Great Platforms Come Great Responsibility

  1. Pingback: Chicago Sports Exchange: Chi Teams Take Wins In Weekend Of Raised Stakes | WARR - We Are Regal Radio·

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