Athletes don't leave opinions at locker room door

  • United States' Megan Rapinoe poses with her individual awards at the end of the Women's World Cup final soccer match between US and The Netherlands at the Stade de Lyon in Decines, outside Lyon, France, Sunday, July 7, 2019. The US defeated the Netherlands 2-0.

    United States' Megan Rapinoe poses with her individual awards at the end of the Women's World Cup final soccer match between US and The Netherlands at the Stade de Lyon in Decines, outside Lyon, France, Sunday, July 7, 2019. The US defeated the Netherlands 2-0.

  • Pat Tillman

    Pat Tillman

  • FILE -- In this Nov. 3, 1980 file photo, former President Gerald Ford lends his support to Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan and his running mate George H.W. Bush, in Peoria, Ill. Bush died at the age of 94 on Friday, Nov. 30, 2018, about eight months after the death of his wife, Barbara Bush.

    FILE -- In this Nov. 3, 1980 file photo, former President Gerald Ford lends his support to Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan and his running mate George H.W. Bush, in Peoria, Ill. Bush died at the age of 94 on Friday, Nov. 30, 2018, about eight months after the death of his wife, Barbara Bush.

  • FILE -- In this June 15, 1975, file photo, world heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali shouts "Joe Bugner must go!" to Malaysian fans during a training session for his fight against Bugner in Kuala Lumpur. Ali turns 70 on Jan. 17, 2012.

    FILE -- In this June 15, 1975, file photo, world heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali shouts "Joe Bugner must go!" to Malaysian fans during a training session for his fight against Bugner in Kuala Lumpur. Ali turns 70 on Jan. 17, 2012.

 
 
Updated 6/18/2020 5:14 PM

Outside the doors to the locker rooms at Soldier Field are signs above large boxes. The signs read, "Please place all personal beliefs, principles and opinions here before entering."

It's the same way at Guaranteed Rate Field, Wrigley Field, the United Center, SeatGeek Stadium, Wintrust Arena, Allstate Arena, etc.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Nah, just kidding.

It turns out athletes -- professional and amateur -- are real people with families, hopes and dreams, not to mention personal beliefs, principles and opinions. As a group, athletes have a history of speaking out when they feel the need and acting upon those beliefs when they think they should.

That's as it should be.

Some American athletes even vote in American elections. More of them should. The same goes for all Americans.

Muhammad Ali famously lost a few years off his boxing career for being a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War.

Tommie Smith and John Carlos felt strongly enough about civil rights issues during the 1968 Olympics to take the award stand after a 1-2 finish in the 200-meter dash each wearing a black glove and raising it in a fist during the national anthem. They also wore black socks and no shoes.

Some athletes retired in their prime to follow their beliefs. Pat Tillman left the Arizona Cardinals to join the U.S. Army. He died in Afghanistan in 2004.

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Fort Pat Tillman has a nice ring to it, if you're looking to rename some military bases for soldiers who didn't take up arms against the American military.

Others, such as Ted Williams, saw action in World War II and the Korean War.

Maya Moore left the WNBA last year in the prime of an incredible career to pursue a passion for criminal-justice reform.

Some athletes have left the athletic arena and entered the political arena. Gerald Ford played football at Michigan and George H.W. Bush played baseball at Yale. Today we know them better as former presidents.

Cory Booker, Bill Bradley and Jim Bunning became U.S. Senators. Jack Kemp, Ralph Metcalfe, Tom McMillen, Tom Osborne, Jim Ryun, Jon Runyan, Heath Shuler, J.C. Watt, Colin Allred and Anthony Gonzalez won congressional seats.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Sometimes locker-room talk involves serious issues facing all or many Americans, including athletes. Nothing wrong with that.

You don't have to leave the games behind to speak your mind, either on social media or to an old-school newspaperman. And yet somehow those athletes and coaches who do so have remained elite competitors.

Colin Kaepernick and other NFL players took a knee during the national anthem before games to protest social injustice. That didn't go over so well with NFL owners, but Kaepernick famously stood his ground and put his money where his knee was.

U.S. Soccer instituted a policy that players couldn't take a knee during the national anthem after Megan Rapinoe started doing it in sympathy with Kaepernick, including before a 2016 game against the Chicago Red Stars in Southwest suburban Bridgeview. Last week, U.S. Soccer rescinded that decision and offered Rapinoe an apology.

Rapinoe isn't shy about sharing her beliefs, but it didn't stop her and her U.S. teammates from winning the World Cup last summer. Rapinoe also won the Golden Ball as the tournament's best player.

Area high school coaches tweeted their opposition to racism and hate in response to this month's protests against police shootings. Some high school athletes even marched in local protests. Many teachers and school administrators consider the experience part of a youngster's education.

Anybody else eager to watch all the active athletes and coaches compete again soon? COVID-19 pandemic permitting, of course.

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