A platform is a raised level surface on which people or things can stand. A platform also refers to the declared policy of a political party or group. As of late there has been a lot of talk about college athletes using their platform to address social injustices in the wake of the killings of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd. The articles accurately articulate that now, with the Black Lives Matters movement it is an incredible time for college athletes to speak out and contribute to change. Yet, after reading what seems to be countless articles about their “platform” – I have to push back and ask is this another case of the media building college athletes up – only to see them fall off of their proverbial platform? Typically, when the media refers to college athletes and their platform, they are referring to their assumed capacity to use their alleged resources to influence injustice on campus or in their community. Inherent in the media’s use of the platform theme is the assumption that college athletes have the resources an activist or advocate needs to have at their disposal to create change and that they know how to combine them (a requisite for a platform). College athletes have resources but means to access potential resources nor the capacity to overcome the barriers established by the gatekeepers who do not want them to access their resources (like their parents). So, my question to all of those media (and other) folks who proclaim college athletes have a platform – what else does this alleged platform include besides college athletes Twitter and/or Instagram accounts? If we think of a platform - it should have the capacity to stand on its own. For visual purposes, can a platform stand on two (Twitter & Instagram) legs? Or Does it require at least four legs to withstand the slightest breeze? Thus far as David Ubben pointed out in his article College football players have power, but they must decide how to use it college athletes have power, but like any other capital it all depends on how you use it. As of July 2, 2020, college athletes have not achieved much over the course of the last few weeks:
- The Kansas State football team boldly asked that KSU student Jaden McNeil who tweeted "Congratulations to George Floyd on being drug free for an entire month!" be dismissed from the university or the entire team will not play. President ---- announced McNeil would not be dismissed.
- The Texas football team fearlessly demanded that the Eyes of Texas be removed as the school song or they would no longer participate in recruiting activities. Ninety six percent of Texas Ex’s want the school song to remain and we haven’t heard much from the UT football team in over a week (I used to work within UT athletics and love these cats and my former colleagues).
- Kerry Martin Jr., courageously shared allegations of mistreatment by West Virginia defensive coordinator Vic Koenning and how Koenning “antagonized” another player until they changed their religion. West Virginia’s response was to put Koenning on administrative leave on June 23, 2020.
At Utah, defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley was suspended pending an investigation of social media content that included the "N" word. This week Utah announced that Scalley would reamin on staff, but reduced his salary by over $400k and removed his coaching in waiting title. (This is definitely a micro-win). I am not here to be Mr. Chris Critical or Daniel Downer because what these young men and women at UT, KSU, Florida State, West Virginia, Liberty, UCLA, Utah, Florida, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, and Mississippi State have done is truly incredible – and unprecedented – and might contribute to some meaningful change. I am with you and admire what you are trying to do! Nonetheless, I do want to point out that college athletes do not have a platform, individually. However, collectively as teams, as athletes at Power Five Conference schools, and as athletes a mid-majors and HBCU’s – they have enormous potential… and they still have time to enhance and utilize their platforms to create meaningful change. However, their platform needs some serious constructive upgrades. How does a college athlete build a platform? What are the elements? I am glad you asked!
1. Trusted Leaders – who are the leaders in college sports? Who will take and drop the mic for college football players? Men’s basketball Players? Women’s basketball players? One leader from each football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball team, the Power Five conferences is all you need. No union, not SAAC – just organization!
2. Education – Once (revenue) college athlete leaders are identifies, then they need to be educated about what advocacy and activism is all about -the process if you will? You don’t just ask the University of Texas to abandon its school song – the “Eyes of Texas” without a plan. What are the stages of activism? What does social justice mean and what are the elements? I am almost sure one or more college athletes had this content in a class? Community building? Lobbying? Propaganda? Protest? Peace Activism?
3. An Agenda –What are your big-ticket and small ticket items? What are your priorities and misdirection plays? What do you want now and what can wait for later?
4. Strategy – What’s your short-term game? What’s your long-term game? What will you do when your initial demands are not met? What are the alternative ideas in your back pocket for negotiations? Ok, you’ve got Twitter and Instagram, but what else do you have? A blog? A white paper? A petition? What other tools have you developed?
5. Allies – Once you have an agenda and a potential strategy then you need allies. What local, state and national organizations can help your cause? What student groups are on your side? I am sure there is a booster or two out there who wants to help you? What national organizations and experts can you connect with? I am sure they will want to help, but are you willing to be vulnerable enough to ask for help?
6. Wise Men & Women – Advocacy, activism, politics, race, social justice and change is not for the faint of heart and college athletes need elders who have fought, persevered and won battles because change does not come without sacrifice, causalities and other things that only an OG knows about. This includes the parents who need to get off the sideline and continue to support their kids and not just their kids athletic careers.
7. Understanding Interest Convergence – Understanding interest convergence might be one of the most important – if not the most important element of college athlete’s proverbial platform. When the Missouri boycott happened the school’s interest – which was not losing over $3.1 million converged with the athletes interest in having the President – when they threatened to boycott. In other words, the president could be replaced, but $3.1 million, the recruiting reputation of the football team and the message a boycott would send to all of college sports would have devastated Missouri athletics forever! Guess what – they had the Chancellor of the system removed too!
8. A Consistent, Persistent and Unified Message – this might be the second most important element – if you cannot divide, then it is difficult to conquer! I was online researching what a platform includes, and one author described his as including:
· Blog – 200,000 unique monthly views · Twitter – 220,000 followers · Google+ – 101,000 people · Newsletter – 16,000 subscribers
So, a college athlete with 20,000 followers has a platform? Not quite, but 205 college athletes leaders (see #1 above), from each Power Five conference FB, MBB and WBB teams with only 5,000 followers each and the elements above not only have a platform – they have the ingredients to change college sports forever and possibly before the Fall semester even begins.
Next Op-Ed: How College Athletes Can Leverage NIL Rights By August 2020. Please subscribe on www.elgphd.com