SEATTLE - Let me introduce you to Seahawks tight end Stephen Sullivan. When he was ten years old, he was homeless and living under a highway bridge after his parents were arrested.
Some nights, he said he didn’t know where his next meal would come from or if he’d have clean clothes for school. When he went to LSU - becoming the first person from his family to earn a college degree - he had a room of his own for the first time in his life.
Let me introduce you to Seahawks right guard Damien Lewis. When he was eight, his home was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. A local ministry director drove him to football camps around the South because Lewis’s parents were both in prison.
First-round pick Jordyn Brooks and his family experienced homelessness for a time too. We already know Bruce Irvin’s story of homelessness and drugs. Mike Iupati lived with his parents and three siblings in his aunt’s garage for a time after moving from American Samoa. Bryan Mone spent his childhood caring for his disabled brother by feeding and bathing him on a daily basis.
That’s just a small sampling – of one team – when teams across the country are comprised of many athletes coming from less-fortunate backgrounds. Whose hometown communities continue to struggle.
And yet, whenever an athlete speaks out – or a boycott takes place – I consistently see snide remarks about “Spoiled Entitled Millionaires.”
So, who are they talking about? Surely not all those players I just spoke about with inspirational stories of grit and determination to overcome incredible odds.
So maybe it’s the more mainstream guys? Like Russell Wilson, who donated more than a million meals to Feeding America, pledged another 10 million meals through a Wheels Up initiative, and raises millions of dollars through his “Why Not You” Foundation to empower today’s youth to overcome obstacles and make a positive impact.
"Spoiled Entitled Millionaires." You mean, like Bobby Wagner, whose countless efforts to help the community across a number of platforms wouldn’t have been made public because of his humility, if he hadn’t been nominated for Walter Payton Man of the Year?
Or K.J. Wright, known best for helping provide clean water wells in Africa?
Maybe they mean the countless players who have deep ties to their hometowns and go back to their roots to lift up their communities in need – like Quandre Diggs, who returns to Angleton, Texas every year to provide school supplies to underprivileged youth and mentor young kids. Or Ugo Amadi, who provided backpacks to kids in need this offseason in both Seattle and Nashville.
Everyone has a right to disagree with a viewpoint. But frankly, a reaction of “they’re just entitled athlete millionaires” is lazy. It’s ignorant. It’s tired. And it’s flat-out wrong.
And by the way, why is this reaction often predominantly reserved for athletes? When a number of major corporations decided to pull their ads off of Facebook, not once did I see anyone say, “What a bunch of spoiled, entitled billionaire CEOs.” People certainly have the right to boycott a company for taking a stand, but rarely do I hear the same off-putting characterizations of CEOs or CFOs that I do for athletes doing the same thing.
When someone’s knee-jerk reaction to a player talking about racial injustice is to say, “So what are they doing about it? What’s the plan?” it either means they’re not paying attention or simply don’t WANT to pay attention.
Because believe me, they are trying. A Seahawks player-led Equality and Justice for All Action Fund has already donated to 26 local organizations and schools. Take a look at the plans announced by the Baltimore Ravens this week, or the NBA’s newest initiatives on social justice and police reform and converting arenas into polling locations for the general election. I also certainly don’t think registering an entire team to vote is a bad way to spend a day in lieu of practice.
And flippant comments regarding an athlete's current financial success undermines the fact that many of their closest friends and families and communities aren’t as lucky.
More power to them for representing those underserved areas and giving them a voice. For sacrificing potential financial losses based on lower ratings or waning interest because they believe the cause is more important.
That’s not entitlement. That’s not selfishness. In fact, it’s the exact opposite – whether you agree with what they’re saying or not.