Long before Colin Kaepernick, athletes have been using their fame as a platform to express protest and civil rights. Why is that? Perhaps it’s because sports are a major part of American culture and where the biggest stars are most often minority. “Shut Up and Dribble” chronicles the modern history of the NBA and at times pays homage to the league for allowing athletes to grow their brands off the court and become icons who bring about social change. The three-part miniseries is produced by LeBron James and currently airing on Showtime. Growing up in the seventies and eighties, I remember Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Muhammad Ali, and Jim Brown as much for their activism as their athletic success. All three of those superstars were arguably the best ever in their respective sports, and ultimately emerged as heroic for taking on the establishment. However, “Shut up and Dribble” also shares the stories of some of the other lesser-known athletes like Craig Hodges and Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf who lost their careers for expressing themselves politically. Perhaps most interestingly, the miniseries doesn’t avoid also covering icons like Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson who chose not to use their fame to take on controversial social issues and instead chose to focus on building a business brand that appealed equally to all audiences. In that regard, the producers seem to take the position that activism should not be mandatory for all athletes. I tend to agree with this. People shouldn’t be shamed into political activism because not everyone is cut out to be Muhammad Ali. An argument can even be made that Jordan and Johnson have had done as much good for the Black community by virtue of their business success as any athlete has ever done through activism. I have always believed that politics is only one vehicle to create change; economics can be an equally if not more powerful tool. Cash, especially in America, is still king. Still, “Shut Up and Dribble” is primarily about the trailblazers and risk takers; the athletes, who at great sacrifice stood up for their beliefs — and rightfully so.
The NFL markets its brand as well as any enterprise in the world. I heard a comedian once say that the NFL is so popular, it has its own day. NFL football is huge. Each NFL franchise brings in approximately $400M a year in revenue; almost double the annual revenue of NBA teams and 2 ½ times as much as MLB clubs.