Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown voted for Hillary Clinton, but that didn’t stop him from meeting with Donald Trump.
“I’m an American citizen, I voted for Hillary Clinton, and we lost,” Brown said. “Why wouldn’t I meet with him?”
Bridge building was an important theme Tuesday, as Brown and a collection of sports legends convened at Hammer Theatre as part of a San Jose State University event to announce the creation of the Institution for the Study of Sport, Society and Social Change. Speaking on a star-studded panel moderated by SJSU alumnus Dr. Harry Edwards, Brown was joined on stage by Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, former 49ers Anquan Boldin and Takeo Spikes, five-time NBA all-star Chris Webber, and Olympic gold medalist Tommie Smith.
In an earlier panel, Smith—a SJSU alumnus who won the 100 meters at the 1968 Olympics and changed the world by raising a black-gloved fist in protest during the National Anthem—was joined on stage by San Francisco Chronicle columnist Ann Killion, retired U.S. Women’s soccer player Danielle Slaton, editor-in-chief of ESPN blog The Undefeated Kevin Merida, and Marc Spears, a senior writer for The Undefeated.
The first panel of the day was moderated by Jocelyn Benson, CEO of Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE), a partner to the new Institute, and conversation centered around the power of social media and the challenges athletes face when taking public political stances.
“There will always be challenges after you take a stand, but the people taking the first steps are paving the way for the next set of activists,” Smith said. The track and civil rights legend also stressed the importance of non-athletes using whatever platformthey possess to have their voice heard. “Professors, bus drivers, garbage disposal people, you got to rise, too!”
The theme of the event, “Words to Action,” will be the focus of the new institute's work, and few people in sports could claim to have lived their life by this creed more than Dr. Edwards, who founded the Olympic Project for Human Rights that led to Smith and John Carlos’ bold political statement in 1968. Edwards has been a mentor to athletes going on five decades, including 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and his work has sparked conversations about sending the right message to youngsters who idolize star athletes, as well as how to make the jump from protest to progress.
“The first thing is to take the lessons of the older generation and bringing them to places to discuss like this,” said Boldin, who in 2015 received the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award for his public service.
Panelists debated whether college athletes should be paid—almost all agreed they should—and discussed the way the NCAA uses college athletes’ bodies with little regard for their long-term health, while raking in millions on endorsements and television deals.
“When you go to college you are suppose to get an education,” Brown said. “We are allowing the system to intersect (business) with education.”
Webber noted how flawed the NCAA’s recruitment system has become, as athletes are being courted by coaches and scouts by the time they just entering their teens.
SJSU’s new institute will be home to further debates on these and other topics that come into contact with sports, and Smith hoped it will be a groundbreaking trend for other schools around the country. More athletes are using their notoriety and social media platforms to voice their thoughts, he said, making the new institution both timely and relevant in the current political climate.
Edwards capped off the event by encouraging people to be a force for positive change by encouraging youth to get informed and speak up.
“We need to tell our young ones to dream with their eyes open,” Edwards said.