There are some sportsmen and women who are genuinely concerned with global issues – war, natural disasters, climate change and the actions of governments and big business. They hesitate to speaking up due to the risk of endangering their position, their contracts with large corporations and their self image. If sports people take a stand, they risk rejection from those who have a different view, as well the probability of losing the potential to sign for lucrative advertising contracts.
Athletes will remind us that their career runs for only a few years and they know full well a sentence of political or corporate criticism ends their sponsorship deals. Every time an athlete appears on television or in a newspaper he or she receives extra money if the logo of the name of the sponsor is visible. It is a cheap way for a major business to advertise. Contracted to a company, the athlete keeps his or her mouth shut. Silence is golden. Literally.
The days of the fearless Muhammad Ali, Tommy Smith and John Carlos belong to sporting history. In the Mexico Olympics in October 1968, U.S. athlete Tommie Smith won the 200 metres race in a then-world-record time of 19.83 seconds, with Australia’s, Peter Norman, second and U.S.’s John Carlos in third place. On the podium, the two U.S athletes received their medals shoeless – wearing black socks to represent black poverty, a black scarf to represent black pride and tracksuit top unzipped to show solidarity with all blue collar workers, as well as beads for those Afro-Americans lynched and murdered in US history. Both athletes gave the clenched fist salute to show solidarity with fellow Afro-Americans. The photo of the two athletes on the podium with an arm defiantly raised became the most iconic photograph in the history of Olympic sport.
Even when athletes have enough money for a thousand lifetimes, they still keep a low political profile. Last year alone, Tiger Woods earned $128 million including $110 million in endorsement deals, especially with Nike with its history of cheap labour in Asia. How much money does he need to feel secure? When he was asked about his decisions, he replied: ““It all depends on how much risk you want to take on. . . The things I do are very conservative. . . . I guess you don’t become billionaires by making bad decisions.”
Tiger Woods, the world’s richest athlete, is a billionaire several times over – a billion is one thousand million dollars. His doting father, Earl Woods, one said his son ““will do more than any other man in history to change the course of humanity. He’s the bridge between the East and the West. There is no limit because he has the guidance. I don’t know yet exactly what form this will take. But he is the Chosen One. He’ll have the power to impact nations. Not people. Nations. The world is just getting a taste of his power.”
The Dharma is the bridge between Eest and West, not an overpaid golfer. Tiger Woods wrote to the Queen of Thailand to tell her that his “heart is Thai.” He has expressed appreciation for his mother’s background in Thai Buddhism and her impact on keeping him single pointed in his profession. Sadly, his single pointed concentration goes to getting a small ball down a small hole, name and fame, making money plus giving foundation grants for young people. He is the best at what he does. Sadly, what he does is not very significant. Our poor world itself is disappearing down a black hole. Sadly other athletes follow his example of the repressed voice. Silence is golden.
I don’t expect Jonathan Barbour to become all of a sudden an activist athlete. He has retired as a top athlete, works with young people, plus earns a little extra with the occasional photo opportunity, and sees his two children on a regular basis. All credit to him.