Athlete power: ‘Shut up and play' is tossed from the game

Men from Milwaukee wear "We're WI Men" T-shirts as they attend the March on Washington, Friday Aug. 28, 2020, in Washington, on the 57th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Men from Milwaukee wear "We're WI Men" T-shirts as they attend the March on Washington, Friday Aug. 28, 2020, in Washington, on the 57th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

With every get-out-the-vote campaign, every shutdown of a major sport, every detailed list of actions by athletes demanding change, one new reality comes into sharper focus: The days of “shut up and play” are winding down.

This summer of police shootings of Black people — the aftershocks exacerbated by a coronavirus pandemic that has upended life everywhere — has emboldened athletes to draw on the platform they've long commanded.

One big difference between now and even a year ago is that there's less indecisiveness on how hard those athletes will press the issues. And to some, the odds seem greater, this time, that what the athletes are calling for might actually come to pass.

“None of us are politicians,” said NFL veteran Marcedes Lewis, an outspoken tight end who plays for Green Bay, which is in the same state where Jacob Blake was shot in the back by police last Sunday. “We get paid to go out there and play and do our job. At the same time, wrong is wrong and right is right. It's encouraging to see guys stepping up.”

In tennis, golf, hockey, baseball, basketball, soccer and football, there have been gestures big and small, and in ways once unimaginable.

Nine NFL teams canceled practices on Thursday — a notable break from routine for a league that still has not found a job for Super Bowl quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who kneeled on the sideline during the national anthem to protest racial injustice. The police shooting of Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, came four years to the day after Kaepernick's first protest.

The Baltimore Ravens, in a posting that went viral, put out a statement with a seven-point plan of action to help combat systemic racism in the U.S.

“If you’re not trying to lead this world, lead this earth with making a positive impact, what are you here for?” receiver DJ Chark Jr. of the Jacksonville Jaguars said. “Whether it’s sports that gives you the platform, whether it’s music, entertainment, whatever it is. If you have a voice, I think if you’re contributing to something that is going to help, something that is positive, I think you should use it.”