A couple of weeks ago, the WNBA was flexing her activist muscle by talking about #BlackLivesMatter and the players all wearing only black. They were also engaging in post game media blackouts and refusing to discuss the games. These players were fined for their activism expression. However, when they wore T-shirts in support of the Orlando shootings in June, they were not fined.
The players said, “Our voice has been taken from us, so if we can use the media to be our voice for now that’s what it will be.”
They were being treated as a commodity; something that only has value to the owner. A thing. Not a full fledged human being.
Here is the problem:
When you work for a company, an organization, or an institution, that entity serves as a frame for your SWAG™. Your SWAG is your “Skills, Work experience, Abilities and Gifts.”
You have SWAG that others leverage. However, you are not your talent. You are not your skills. You are not your work experience and you are not your gifts. You still have a soul. You still live in a community. You still have an opinion. You are a human being! When you work for a company that says you should not have an opinion about whether or not you should live, then that company has a significant problem and there little or no resonance between you and that company.
Here is the solution:
Companies, employers, institutions have an obligation to see, and honor, the person behind the talent or the gift. When they do not, they are treating you like a commodity. You are merely a transaction. When you are a highly paid athlete, you have an obligation to your community. Your community helped you showcase your talent. If no one liked you, bought tickets to see your game, turned the tv off when you were playing, did not buy the Nike sneakers you were advertising, then who would you be without that community?
Therefore, you have an obligation to live out your truth in the public forum. Athletes have the right to make activist statements. When the WNBA put on shirts that said #Dallas5 and #BlackLivesMatter, they were making a statement about the right to live.
I think some of this attitude stems from two things:
#1. This culture views its sports figures as commodities. Your excellence is wonderful as long as it is making your employer money. The minute you have an injury or you lose your mojo, it is over. Next! The sports industry is only about winning. However, no actual human being wins ALL the time. You have a soul. Your soul is important to you and should be to your employer.
#2. The WNBA is 70% African American. These are actual human beings whose lives are affected by police brutality and racism. They are good enough to play basketball for us but not good enough to voice their opinions? When we view people only through their gender or race, we diminish their souls by refusing to acknowledge all of their humanity.
The Olympics have really brought out the underbelly of not seeing the full humanity of our athletes:
A respected reporter for the BBC, John Inverdale, overlooked powerful, undisputed, popular well loved women in his statement to Andy Murray below:
Is this the face of leadership? Nope! And he wants folks to listen to his interviews? Sheesh! The Williams sisters were treated as a commodity here.
Katie Ledecky wins and a local newspaper says:
Do you get that a woman broke a world record and wins a gold medal and our “trusted” media tells us that a man came second in big bold print? They visually reduced her accomplishment and had to place it “beneath” their iconic man. They attempted to diminish her soul in this report. And I am supposed to spend my money buying this newspaper and giving my attention to this media outlet? Not! Ledecky is treated like a commodity here.
Again, another media outlet shows us that a wonderful, amazing record-breaking woman, Simone Manuel, is not a name, but “an African American.” Her soul is missing in this story.
In this story, Phelps is not even in the picture, but he is overshadowing the person who excelled higher than he did. Her name is not even mentioned! One of the ways we diminish people is not knowing their names. Think on that! She is treated like a commodity.
This is how the media silences the voices of the souls of women and African Americans in our cultural space. I think it is important to point these discrepancies out, not to demean the publishers but to show how good intentions go awry.
As a leader, a business owner, a person that puts out media information, how are you unintentionally silencing the voices of those around you?
If you work for someone, do they treat you like a commodity or a person?