Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson says athletes have “a right to share our opinion” on social matters instead of sticking to sports as some would suggest.
Athletes have exerted greater power this year in speaking out against social injustices and acting upon those matters. The Milwaukee Bucks refused to leave the locker room for their NBA playoff game Wednesday night to protest the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, by a police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
The action by the Bucks sparked a reaction throughout the sports world. The NBA, WNBA did not play Thursday and are not playing Friday. Some Major League Baseball games were not played this week. The NHL playoffs were not held Thursday and Friday. MLS games were postponed.
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Johnson said Friday that drivers have had some conversations with each other and NASCAR about a response to the shooting of Jacob Blake by a police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The Cup Series races Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBC).
“I know many, including myself, are extremely disturbed from what we saw in Kenosha,” Johnson said.
Bubba Wallace, the only Black driver competing in the Cup Series, stated in a series of tweets Thursday night that by NASCAR “continuing to race this weekend DOES NOT mean we are stepping down and turning away from the dark and evil acts that have taken place over our nation.”
Asked Friday about how athletes have become more vocal and active in social matters, Johnson gave this response:
“These are changing times. I know many don’t want to see the opinions of the athletes and they want the sport to be the sport and the athletes just to be quiet. I think there’s been so much going on over a long, long period of time and various topics as well. We have an opinion. Athletes have an opinion. We have a right to share our opinion.
“I think with age I’ve become more comfortable to share my opinion. As I learn more about various issues, my own emotions come into play and I’m led to have different conversations or use my platforms in a different way to focus our foundation and some of the work it does in a different direction.
“We all have our own journey with it all. I think we definitely all have that right and should not be judged to have that right. There are just changing times. A big election year and a lot of different opinions. My opinion, a country more divided than I’ve ever seen or experienced in my lifetime. So it’s an important time in everyone’s life right now.
“I feel like the younger generation is watching and learning and I’m very encouraged by watching my kids and the way our school is teaching them to learn to have an opinion, to really educate themselves on various topics.
“At times I’m discouraged by where we sit as a nation and as a world and just how divided we all are, but then when I see my kids and their questions and their genuine concern about the future of our country, our environment of racial inequality issues, gender related issues, I do become encouraged. To hear a 10-year-old and a 6-year-old weigh in on some conversations really has blown my mind.
“I do have some optimism for the future. Clearly, it’s a critical point in time right now for us all. It’s a big topic in a journey that is not going to resolve any time soon for generations to come.”
Tyler Reddick, who was among the first Cup drivers to be outspoken on social media about racial injustices this year, also shared his opinion about athletes playing a larger role in social and racial matters.
“It’s important for us as athletes, kind of like what Jimmie said earlier, some people feel like we just need to stick to sports and talk sports and live and breathe it, but we are human beings,” Reddick said. “It’s our right to share how we feel about certain things. For me, the issues have been going on are things that we need to keep improving upon. It’s great to see athletes and individuals come together like they have and really take a stand for something like that.
“For us in NASCAR, I can’t speak for NASCAR I guess, but we will continue to search and figure out our way of continuing to go down that path. We really did a lot of good things to be inclusive as we kind of got our year back rolling and we continue to go down this path this year. We’ve taken a lot of the steps that are good and in the right direction.
“I’m encouraged that we’ve been going down that path and I’m excited to see where that path continues to take us. It’s truly moving to see those athletes and individuals stand up for that, take that stand. There’s more to life than sports. There always will be.”