One of the greatest seasons for Americans is the transition from August to September. This year, the high of being the clear victor of the 2021 Olympics is still fresh and we’re channeling it straight into the start of football season.
As the chaos in Afghanistan unfolded in recent weeks, there was a rush to prioritize the escape of athletes stuck in the country. This impulse is understandable but telling.
More than 4,200 people agreed with Alex Morgan when she tweeted a picture of an Afghan flag with the words “Save Afghan Athletes.” But she didn’t stop there. Morgan and the captain of the U.S. women’s national soccer team Becky Sauerbrunn then wrote to the State Department urging it to give humanitarian parole to members of the Afghanistan women’s soccer team.
— Alex Morgan (@alexmorgan13) August 24, 2021
They didn’t say “Save Afghan Women” or “Save Afghan Children.” They certainly didn’t say anything about saving Americans.
That same day, while thousands of other Afghans and Americans fended for their lives, more than 50 Afghan athletes were evacuated out of Kabul. While all lives saved are a victory, this exemplifies America’s culture of athlete supremacy.
Sports are entertaining and undoubtedly a great addition to life, but do athletes really deserve to be glamorized and prioritized because they throw a ball better than someone else who helped our troops or an innocent child?
Although Australia led the effort to remove these athletes by granting them visas, Morgan is an American and her tweet reveals a worldview all too common in the United States, where athlete privilege reigns king.
The NCAA and Division I sports have turned young athletes into celebrities. College athletes are just kids when they are thrown in front of a crowd of thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands, and told to impress. They are just kids when they are bet on, and apparel with their name is printed on thousands of jerseys and sold for a profit.
Now college athletes can have sponsorships and make money from their name and image just for their athletic ability. The simplicity of just having fun while playing a sport competitively and getting an education is lost, and these kids, much like myself as a collegiate athlete, are being taught that they should only look out and play for themselves, because that means more money, and that means more power.
They are just kids, much like the ones in Afghanistan who need to be saved. Stars like Morgan who advocate for these athletes should know that. If someone didn’t give them their chance, they wouldn’t have the voice or fame they have today.
Sure, there are big-name athletes who came from nothing, like Manny Pacquaio and Mike Tyson, who are inspiring and deserve to be celebrated. But if they are treated like saviors, there are going to be athletes who allow it to get to their head, and abuse their God-like status.
When athletes are treated better than others, it can even lead to the whining we see from athletes in the United States who suddenly think they are some sort of activists.
Lebron James is a classic example. Being idolized for his ability to play basketball better than the rest of the world turned him into a political force. The more people debated if he was the G.O.A.T, was more time James could spend pushing for racial division and criticizing President Trump.
It went as far as James making the decision to postpone an NBA playoff game and lead a player protest after the shooting of a black man, Jacob Blake. His actions led to other MLB players deciding to protest playing, postponing their games, as a way to send a message.
These were games surely thousands had planned to attend and suddenly their plans were rearranged because James thought they should be. Because James believes his opinion and voice are the greatest of them all. Since when do players decide if the game should be played? Isn’t the sole purpose of their job to play?
People have told James to “shut up and dribble.” But that’s really all he had to do because those who worshipped him raised his ego and voice above the rest.
With the genuinely terrible plight of Afghan soccer players, their prioritization is still hypocritical of woke athletes who present themselves as guardians of equality and empathy. If they preach that not one life should be valued over another, then that’s exactly what they should advocate for—and certainly athletes aren’t the only ones they should be advocating for if they really believe that.
What about the 24 California children who traveled to Afghanistan on summer vacation who are now stranded?
Morgan and her supporters tweeted about the athletes. Resources that could have gone to children or fighters went first to them, thanks to the publicity and advocacy that comes with their job. They, because of their sport and the privilege that comes with it, were valued over others.
Although no one has the exact number, thousands of Americans and allies remain in Afghanistan. Within those thousands, chances are there is someone with the potential to be a teacher, a doctor, a policeman, a CEO, or even a professional athlete.
Sports are essential to the world and American culture, but putting athletes on higher ground and worshipping them for their athletic ability has consequences. With football season off to its much-anticipated start, we’ll certainly see more of this from now until Super Bowl Sunday.
Haley Carter, a retired Marine and pro soccer player who helped coordinate the Afghan team’s escape, spoke to CNN about the effort. “Being in a position to put people on a list and get them out, there’s this guilt that accompanies that because you are essentially choosing who lives and who could potentially die. That’s a very heavy feeling,” she said.
Carter is exactly right. In horrible circumstances like these, allocating resources necessarily involves prioritizing some people over others. With so many stranded children and allies, it’s telling that social media boosted the efforts of those who sought to allocate resources to athletes.