This past week, our class focused on two superstar, transcendent footballers that were (and continue to be remembered for) both their performance on the pitch, as well as their use of their image and likeness for their perceived “greater good”. One, Socrates, the great Brazilian midfielder who earned his doctorate prior to his incredible success with the club Corinthians, publicly declared his intention to leave his home and play abroad if the Brazilian government refused to heed to the public’s demand for democratic elections. The other, the legendary Diego Maradona, frequently professes his strong, leftist political views to fans and the media alike; he has even so far as to have gotten tattoos of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara! The uses of football for change doesn’t have to be employed by the players themselves, either. Just this past week, Liverpool fans staged a 77th minute walk-out during a Liverpool Sunderland match at Anfield to protest the club’s decision to raise certain ticket prices to $77 (in fact, after the walk-out, Sunderland scored two late goals to secure a draw and snatch 3 points from the Reds!).
What makes sport so compelling as a vehicle for social or political purposes? For one, the excitement of sport cannot exclude people based on race, gender, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status. Today, the best footballers in the world span the entire globe and encompass an incredible diversity in terms of background and upbringing. Football is no longer a sport of the “elites”, as it was during its early roots within English schools. The same goes for enjoying soccer as a fan; there are hardly any financial constraints from watching, loving, and supporting a club. Because of this, sports are an enjoyment for all of the masses; this makes sport a fair and equal platform for political movements for all to capitalize on.
I also believe that the tremendous amount of respect the public has for world-class athletes plays into the strong influence they can utilize in the public sphere. Despite former NBA basketball player Charles Barkley’s claim that “[He] is not a Role Model”, in today’s society, athletes are idolized and worshipped like Greek gods by the fans of their respective sports. This love and adoration for great athletes ensures that an athlete’s views and stances will be more closely monitored and listened to than the every man.