Two aspects of society have become intertwined, sports and social justice. Inequality in the criminal justice system had previously been a slow grumble, just under the surface. My peers try to bring a voice to the voiceless, the marginalized. A question we have long asked in my current profession is: Why don’t people care more about this? The criminal justice system has been devoid of certain rights for so long, we have almost become jaded. That is why, in this current climate, I have found a renewed inspiration from sports. I am a washed up tennis player after all. Sports are where I turn when I need to feel connected, a part of something bigger. The people bringing the spotlight to the movement are not just athletes that should “shut up and dribble.” These are human beings from all walks of life, that are bringing attention to where it is due: the racial and social disparities that are now at the forefront. Do sports and social issues need to be separated? As I just mentioned, athletes are human beings, just like the rest of us. They have felt the sting of pain, perhaps been victim to racial discrimination themselves. Athletes work tirelessly for their platform, and their voices boom louder than mine ever could.
My outlook on changes in our criminal justice system has never been more positive, in large part because of athletes, sports agencies, and sports reporters. A blistering wave of statements and changes from front offices in every league. Almost every major agency has released a statement in support of this movement, while many are forming Inclusion and Diversity Panels to ensure their work environments better reflect this day and time. This has permeated throughout every sport we watch. Players are willing to disrupt competitions to shine the light on important issues, with their teams behind them.
Yes, sports are a business. There is a bottom line for teams and players alike. But I would argue that performance and perspective can coexist. LeBron James is helping to ensure you vote while he competes in the playoffs. The Players Coalition seeks to educate. Jay Z wants to make sure you are given every opportunity from an early age. Naomi Osaka is a “vessel” for the message at the U.S. Open. Private citizens are beginning to fill in the gaps of resources our society has been longing for, because their hard work and talent has afforded them the resources to do so. And to Colin Kaepernick: thank you. Thank you for putting it all on the line to create change. You used your platform to achieve the ultimate win, equality. Your voice is finally being heard through your own platform, Know Your Rights Camp. Football gave you that voice, that platform for change. The news yesterday of Madden 21 was not the same as a GM calling you, but a small step is still a step. You are a starter again, even if it is just currently as a free agent quarterback on Madden 21.
I have worked in criminal defense for seven years, and I am constantly asked how I can do what I do. There is always a simplicity to my answer: there is a human being staring back at me hoping I can help in some way. This is true for all of us. We all need support, a team behind us to make it in this world. To recognize and reflect our humanity back to us. No one knows this better than an athlete. That is why this partnership between sports and social justice is so important. So I say to the entire sports community, keep pushing. There will continue to be dark, uncertain days, but your platform helps shine a brighter light on these issues than we can from the shadows. You have a team of social justice warriors behind you.
Natalie Muccillio is a paralegal in the Public Defenders Office in San Diego, CA.