King James has done it again! He has once more shown the world why he is “More Than an Athlete.” For the first three Saturdays of November, he blasted the airways of millions of Americans with his new documentary – “Shut-up and Dribble.” The documentary aired on Showtime. The must-see documentary is a three-part docu-series detailing a reality about sports that many fans refuse to acknowledge. The “Shut-up and Dribble” documentary forces sports fans to acknowledge that sports, politics, and social justice have always been intertwined.
The relationship between sports, politics, and social justice is a point of contention for many. This point of contention reemerged in 2016 when former Sanfransico 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality. Kaepernick’s protest sparked a national debate about whether athletes should use their platforms to advocate for social justice issues. Some fans believe that sports are no place for politics and should be devoid of social justice issues. However, others see sports as the perfect stage to address the ills of society.
The former viewpoint has led to the seemingly popular view that athletes should stick to sports. In fact, the documentary gets its title from Fox News pundit Laura Ingraham who earlier this year told James to “shut-up and dribble” after James made unflattering comments about President Trump. Unfortunately, many sports fans agree with her and believe that athletes, particularly black athletes, should simply stick to sports. However, athletes have never simply stuck to sports, which is exactly what “Shut-up and Dribble” proves.
Athletes Have Never Simply Stuck to Sports
Fans who believe athletes should stick to sports contend that athletes are not qualified to make political statements or advocate for social justice issues. However, the opposite is true. Athletes are uniquely situated to advocate for social justice issues, and throughout history, athletes have done just that. Since Jackie Robinson integrated Major League Baseball, sports have been used to break racial barriers and improve race relations.
The documentary starts with the story of Bill Russell, who completely revolutionized basketball and broke racial barriers in the sport. Russell, who dominated the NBA during the Civil Rights Movement, wasted no time pushing civil rights issues in the NBA. He questioned the NBA’s racial quota that limited the number of black players on a team. Russell and his teammates made an unprecedented move to boycott a game in Kentucky after a local restaurant refused to seat him and his black teammates. Russell became the first African American head coach as a player-coach of the Boston Celtics. Bill Russell’s story proves that sports have never truly been devoid of social justice issues. His story further shows that issues of race have always been embedded in sports, rather overt or subtle.
While it May be Unpopular, Athletes Have to Stand-up for Themselves
Athletes must stand up for themselves because no one else will. The documentary proved this to be true when it highlighted the story of Oscar Robertson. Oscar Robertson is the first NBA Player to average a triple-double for an entire season. However, Robertson’s greatest accomplishment is leading the path to the creation of the NBA’s free agency system. While serving as the President of the Player’s Union, Roberston sued the NBA. Robertson argued that “the draft, option clause and other rules restricting player movement were violations of antitrust laws.”[i]
In the documentary, Robertson is seen before Congress arguing that it is wrong to limit what a man can make. Robertson knew his worth and the potential worth of other players and fought for it. In 1976, the suit was settled, and the NBA introduced the concept of free agency where players can negotiate with other teams while giving their current team the right of first refusal.
Robertson’s Spirit is Visible in Current Athletes
NFL running back Le’Veon Bell is an example of an athlete who is unafraid to stand up for what he believes he is worth. Bell is sitting out this NFL season because he and the Pittsburg Steelers could not come to an agreement for a long-term contract. Bell refused the Steelers offer of a franchise player contract that would pay him the average salary of the top five running backs. However, Bell feels he deserves a contract valued at roughly $17 million per year with much of it guaranteed upfront. He may be right because he is arguably the best running back in the league who sometimes performs as a wide receiver. It remains to be seen if Bell’s holdout will benefit him in the long run. However, it is likely to benefit future NFL players like Robertson’s actions benefited future NBA players.
“Shut-Up and Dribble” is a Must See for Every Sports Fan
“Shut-up and Dribble” is a must see for all sports fans. In addition to the aforementioned stories, the documentary highlights the stories of other athlete activists. From Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Muhammad Ali to Craig Hodges and Colin Kaepernick the documentary reveals that sports have never truly been devoid of athlete activist. After watching the documentary, fans will hopefully have a greater appreciation for athletes activist. Fans will realize the sports that they love would not be what they are today if not for athletes activist.
[i]Ron Flatter, Oscar Defined the Triple-Double, ESPN https://www.espn.com/sportscentury/features/00016428.html.