Ivory Kelly-Martin

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Conservative commentator Laura Ingraham suggested Lebron James “shut up and dribble” when the basketball star talked about politics during an interview two years ago. It served as another example of people wanting athletes and media to “stick to sports.”

Those days are fading fast. You can still want them, and likely will find places that focus solely on the games, but it won’t be as easy as in the past. Social issues and politics are flowing into sports rapidly during civil unrest brought about by George Floyd’s death while in custody of the Minneapolis Police in late May.

That’s a good thing. Sports are wildly popular around the world. It’s a stage capable of promoting and helping the necessary change needed for equality throughout society. Racism and prejudice must end, and segments of society most in the spotlight can impact growth greatly even though it takes everyone.

The racists are helping bring sports and social issues together. Look no farther for evidence than a noose being hung in the garage of NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace Sunday in Alabama, which later turned out to be a misunderstanding after it was investigated. He’s the series’ lone black driver, and he runs a car that displays Black Lives Matter on it.

NASCAR is a sport with roots in the South. Some fans are pushing back on it banning the Confederate flag from its events. Truck racer Ray Ciccarelli is walking away from driving based on that decision.

If you don’t believe there are problems in the largely white populated sport, read some of the comments under NASCAR’s social media post about the noose in Wallace’s garage. That it was not a hate crime doesn’t wipe out the hate. Sticking to sports is avoidance of deep-seated issues related to White Privilege, Systemic Racism and Unconscious Bias. That trio is tearing this country apart.

Inequality based on race hit the Iowa Football program earlier this month. The accusations from former players led to longtime strength coach Chris Doyle and the school parting ways. The case illustrated that these problems exist everywhere, coast to coast and into middle America. No place should stick to sports until a serious culture shift occurs with the Hawkeyes and nationwide.

Iowa players now can use their voices on Twitter after being suppressed for years. That leads to pushback when some fans disagree with their views. Expect those instances to continue as these Hawkeyes no longer “shut up” and stick to their sport. How the Hawkeyes handle potential protesting during the national anthem will be one of the bigger stories this season.

That topic kicked off Iowa landing in the national spotlight. Former offensive lineman James Daniels opened the door for other players to speak out during the anthem discussion. Athletes from other schools like Texas and Oklahoma State have asked for change.

They’re empowered. That should continue. And save the “athletes are soft these days” rhetoric. If coaches can’t perform their jobs by fostering equality and allowing player voices to be heard, they shouldn’t be in the profession. They should be teachers and educators molding their students during a formative time.

Expect politics to be part of the discussion. The Big Ten is promoting an initiative for athletes voting and schools are freeing up election day for them. The current president and vice president aren’t acknowledging the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.

How does that sit with black athletes? Former Hawkeye running back Toks Akinribade gives you insight with a Tweet from Monday morning.

A large number of former and current players, black and white, are posting on social media in support of BLM. So are coaches. How do they feel about the stance from the White House? Does that matter to you? Would you rather they just score touchdowns and be quiet?

Current starting Iowa linebacker Djimon Colbert marched with protesters in Iowa City this month. He shared a political video on Sunday.

These actions are making some people uncomfortable. They’ll tell you they look to sports as an escape from everyday life. They don’t want politics and social issues messing with their entertainment. You folks have the option of walking away. These athletes are ok with you keeping your money if you’re choosing to be on the wrong side of history.

If you don’t care about the players’ feelings, how they are treated away from the field, if they’re just a number in your program, that’s probably the right move. These guys are asking for support all day, every day. And shutting up and dribbling isn’t working.