The year 2020 has been a rollercoaster one in the United States as the country has been stoked with racial tensions, the ravaging effects of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the defining election.
This crucial period has also seen several influential athletes channeling their resources towards the fields of activism for various worthy causes. In that regard, Sports Illustrated has cast a spotlight on five of such athletes.
For having a stellar year on the field/court as well as their activism endeavors, Sports Illustrated has named Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James, U.S. Open winner Naomi Osaka, Kansas City Chiefs football players Patrick Mahomes and Laurent Duvernay-Tardiff, and Seattle Storm basketball star Breanna Stewart as the Sportsperson of the Year.
In a video by the sports magazine honoring the athletes, former basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar described them as “champions in their sport and of causes that seek to level society’s playing field.”
“In a year seemingly designed to divide physically, emotionally, politically, they found ways to unite, to inspire, to rebuild the shared experience sports usually provides, even in the most unusual circumstances,” the former NBA champion said. “They are athletes, they are activists.”
James, who led the Los Angeles Lakers to win the NBA championship in the just-ended season, was instrumental in setting up More Than A Vote – an organization consisting of Black athletes and artists who are “combating systemic, racist voter suppression by educating, energizing, and protecting” their community. Together, the non-profit managed to organize over 42,000 poll workers to help with the presidential election, CBS News reported. The poll workers, who are also assisting with the upcoming Georgia Senate runoffs, also helped almost 300,000 people vote.
Besides this honor, James also received the 2020 Sports Illustrated Muhammad Ali Legacy Award for his social activism endeavors including building a school in his hometown of Akron.
Tennis star Naomi Osaka also used her platform to send out a strong social justice message during the US Open tournament this year – a competition she eventually won. During the tournament, the 23-year-old wore seven different facemasks bearing the names of Black victims of police brutality or racist violence.
“For me, I just wanted people to start talking,” Osaka, who was born to a Haitian father and a Japanese mother, told Sports Illustrated. “I think the biggest takeaway was learning in Japan, on the news they were discussing things. I feel like tennis is played all over the world and it’s broadcasted all over the world. In other countries, they may not know these names. They’ll start a discussion about it and they’ll learn. The biggest thing is to make people talk about it.”
Kansas City Chiefs star and Super Bowl champion, Patrick Mahomes, did not only have a successful year on the field but also lent his voice off the field in pushing the NFL to publicly condemn racism, CBS News reported.
Following the death of George Floyd, the quarterback, together with other players in the league, released a powerful Black Lives Matter video, prompting the NFL not only “condemn racism and the systematic oppression of Black People”, but also admit they were “wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier” when they were initially protesting for the same cause.
“I’ve been given this platform and I want to make sure that I can do whatever I can to make the world a better place, in which ever way that is,” Mahomes told Sports Illustrated. “We believe that Black lives matter.”