Activism and Athletics

Discourse and Sports

BRIAN CABRAL // MARCH 9, 2018 

Divisions exist across campus that create binaries, and one of them is the athlete/non-athlete binary that other Oberlin students have previously written about. I noticed the social divide between athletics and activism since my first-year at Oberlin in 2014 when I occupied spaces of protest and no athletes were present, and when I attended varsity games that my activist friend group never attended. I, then, come to this opinion on activism and athletics as a club sport athlete, student leader activist, and devoted fan of varsity athletics.

On the last day of Black History Month, a panel with professors Sarah Jackson and Louis Moore, journalist Kevin Blackstone, and former D1 basketball phenom from the “Fab Five” at the University of Michigan, Jimmy King discussed the issues and intersections of Black Athletes, Activism, and the Media. Blackstone briefly mentioned that he was confused that a divide between athletics and the larger campus community at Oberlin exists. I jotted this down because in a way, I am confused too. Last Fall semester, student athletes, professors, and staff members hosted three events that created a space to talk about the divide. The first event called for an integration of athletics and academics, but the last one was a more intentional discussion. The facilitators posed the question, “How do we (dis)solve it?” it being the binary divide between athletes and non-athletes. The events highlighted some of the issues that created and sustained the divide, such as sexual misconduct, biases, and stereotypes towards athletes and activists, and the lack of support and attendance at workshops, protests, and games, to name a few. These issues, among others are important to consider and discuss, but what confused me was the distinction and separation of students into the athlete/non-athlete framework itself. On one end, student activists critiqued athletes for not showing up to their workshops that engage in social and political discourse or to their campus protests. On the other end, some student athletes claimed that they did not have the time to go protest and attend the workshops put together by other students on top of their commitments to schoolwork and their sport. The consensus between the two, however, was that there was a willingness to engage in solidarity and allyship for both discourse and sports.

The consensus for showing up to workshops, protests, and sports is key in understanding the dynamic between the two groups. First, I argue, we need to rid ourselves from talking about this issue through the athlete/non-athlete binary. We can do this by getting rid of the stereotypes we hold about athletes and activists, and understand that we are all Oberlin students that come from different backgrounds and perspectives. Then, we must continue the conversation about what support looks like from athletes and what it looks like from activists, and form collaborative interactions that will hopefully open space for dialogue, trust, and diminish the divide. In the aforementioned panel, Blackstone asserted that sports provide “a political organized structure” that professional and amateur athletes use in sports for activism and uplifting marginalized communities. People are often quick to dissociate politics from sports, but sports culture is inherently political even if you are an athlete that avoids being political.

I hear the concerns voiced by Oberlin students who do not play varsity sports and sympathize with the amount of time they spend on discourse trying to solve or bring awareness to issues plaguing our campus community. I also sympathize with varsity athletes for the amount of time they spend training and playing their sport. But we have the potential to make Oberlin a place where academics, activists, and athletes hangout, support one another, and build friendships outside of their own circle of friends. As someone who lingers in between both as a student activist leader and club sport athlete, bridging this divide is important to build a cohesive student body, be able to change the social dynamics of this campus, and build a stronger base of school spirit for sporting events. GO YEO! GO OBIES!

This short opinion piece is inspired by a second-year student at Oberlin who after the panel mentioned that I was in a position to express my opinion on the highly contested divide between athletics and the rest of the college campus. Thank you. Let these conversations continue.

Contact contributing writer Brian Cabral at bcabral@oberlin.edu.

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