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Activist athletes - Megan Rapinoe success and charisma


Defiance pays dividends for Rapinoe & Co

IbyIMD+ Published 11 March 2021 in Magazine • 8 min read

After years of top athletes being shunned for their social activism, stars such as Naomi Osaka and Marcus Rashford are now being embraced by major sponsors. It’s a team effort where everyone can be a winner, writes Lindsay Sarah Krasnoff.

Today’s athlete activism is facilitated by sports diplomacy thanks to the industry’s globalizing cauldron, and notable for its worldwide force. It’s clear that no team can exist now without purpose and this extends to brands. As a result, industry leaders must now weigh how to use the power of their platforms to support civil and human rights as part of their business development, consumer engagement and brand reputation calculations.

The United States has a heritage of athlete political and civic engagement. American athletes’ civil rights advocacy, a decades-old phenomenon, rose to international attention in the 1960s. Olympic track stars Tommie Smith, John Carlos, and Wyomia Tyus, NBA champions Bill Russell and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, tennis aces Arthur Ashe and Billie Jean King, and boxing great Muhammad Ali are among those known for their protests. Today they’re considered trailblazers but at the time they suffered consequences: Smith and Carlos lost their sponsorships and livelihoods, Ali was denied his boxing licence for several years, while Ashe was stripped of the captaincy of the US Davis Cup team. Athletes who spoke out continued to be shunned or overlooked. Players in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), proactive advocates since the league’s 1996 founding, didn’t gain greater attention for their efforts until July 2016 when the Minnesota Lynx protested over the police…

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