How To Talk To Your Student-Athletes About Political Issues

August 24th, 2017 | by Matthew Monte
How To Talk To Your Student-Athletes About Political Issues
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Political

To say we’re living in a tense political climate would be an understatement.

Every day, it seems, we read about more protests and counter protests, and more often than not, they take place on the grounds of a campus or university. Whether we like it or not, college sports and the athletes that represent our programs will either get pulled into the fracas or feel the need to step in themselves.

The first responsibility of an administrator in intercollegiate athletics is to the student-athlete. While it would be easy to tighten the strings and set strict rules for how and what and athlete can say or do, nothing is learned from that kind of experience except more contempt. That’s why I always recommend providing guidance by educating your players on the different issues and stakeholders.

That’s why I always recommend providing guidance by educating your players on the different issues and stakeholders. You will still have to deal with poor decisions made by 18-22 year-olds, but those players would likely have made similar decisions had they not been educated on the situation, and worse, they would be clueless to the impact those decisions had. By putting the information and decision of how to react into your player’s hands, you are both empowering them and placing the burden of knowledge on their shoulders.

This is more easily explained by looking at the different topics that should be covered when speaking to your players about political issues.


Who are the stakeholders in our program and how would they react?

It is never easy to try and predict how people will respond to any event, but it is safe to say that given a large enough group, there will be people with very strong opinions one way or the other. There are a ton of stakeholders in an athletic program, including players, coaches, administrators, students, faculty, fans, donors, media partners, advertisers, and even local or national the news media. It’s fair to assume that any political statement will receive some level of negativity. Whether it’s a small fan boycott, or a potential donor pulling a pledge, or even faculty opposition, there will likely be some form of backlash. Therefore, a decision has to be made as to whether that backlash is worth the statement being made.

How does this affect my team?

Even athletes who compete in individual events need to understand that they don’t just represent themselves when they speak or post on social media. As long as they wear a uniform, people see them as spokesmen for their team and university. The responsible thing to do would be to discuss these sorts of issues with your teammates and coaches. If a player feels strongly about a particular issue, there is a likelihood that their teammates have similar feelings. But as mentioned before, the team isn’t the only factor here.

Can this decision be supported by the University?

Ultimately, student-athletes are students and thus are part of a larger university. Each and every university in this country has a stated value system, and while not all value systems are perfect, they are a good indicator as to what the university’s stance would be on any given topic. As long as the student-athletes’ decisions line up with the values of their institution, it should be supported. If it doesn’t agree with the stated values but is supported by a number of student-athletes, then the administration should encourage a review of the university’s policies.

College is supposed to be a place where we learn as much about ourselves as we do about our chosen field. Part of that is understanding the world around us and where we stand on divisive subjects, but more and more we are becoming a society where the first and loudest reaction is all that matters. The platform that comes with being a student-athlete is already a loud one. By understanding that, student-athletes can both be outspoken and good stewards of their programs’ image.

 

About Contributor Matthew Monte
Matthew Monte is Managing Editor of College AD and formerly Co-Managing Editor of Underdog Dynasty. He is a graduate of The B.I. Moody III College of Business Administration at UL Lafayette, mostly because it didn't require a foreign language. Matt is also a recovering stand up comedian who occasionally relapses.

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