Slavery = college football, student-athlete says. Why I’m applauding him (and his dissenter)

Posted on 01-22-2016 by
Tags: football , freedom of speech , SuperBowl , LIT , college athletics , civilrights , Top Stories , 1st Amendment


Florida football player Jalen Tabor recently tweeted (then deleted):

The SEC Made 527.4 Million in Total Revenue and Players Ain’t Get A Penny. Modern Form Of Slavery

He then mea culpa-ed with this follow-up tweet:

Tabor’s analogy isn’t new. Back in 2011, Taylor Branch wrote in The Atlantic:

Slavery analogies should be used carefully. College athletes are not slaves. Yet to survey the scene … is to catch an unmistakable whiff of the plantation.

On ESPN’s Around the Horn, journalist Jemele Hill rejected the analogy, underscoring slavery’s ugly history and its lack of free will. Journalist Bomani Jones later offered a different analogy: "prostitution."

For the sake of argument, I agree that Tabor's opinion called for a different analogy. 

So why am I applauding Jalen Tabor?

Because Jalen Tabor spoke out.

As a student-athlete, he exercised his freedom of speech, and he did so where the collegiate powers are now building roadblocks - in social media. Lately, college coaches have been clobbering the 1st Amendment with their social media bans.

Granted, a student-athlete risks tweeting something dumb and damaging. But what Tabor tweeted wasn’t dumb or damaging … it was an opinion on an important issue. The argument that colleges need to protect student-athletes folds within itself the suppression of these opinions. Of course, their protection is important. But the narrow-minded “let’s protect them from themselves” is costly when it buries the right to speak out.  

Speaking out is what Martin Luther King yearned for in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail. In his letter, King rebuked the local clergy’s silence, saying:

…all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows.

This is why I applaud Jalen Tabor, because he didn’t remain silent behind the “anesthetizing security” of ivory covered walls. It’s also why I applaud Michigan State football player, Riley Bullough, who spoke out in what appears to be a rebuttal to Tabor. Bullough tweeted:

Tabor or Bullough … whoever’s side you fall on, you should applaud both for speaking out on things that matter. For if they had remained silent, they would’ve violated this warning from King: 

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