Black athletes have been getting a lot of attention since Colin Kaepernick took a knee- whether they speak out or stay silent on social justice issues, the world is looking to see where they stand.

At the recent SportsBall 2017, a celebration of the legacy of tennis champion and activist Arthur Ashe, journalist and honoree Soledad O’Brien weighed in on whether Black athletes have the option to stay on the sidelines in real life.

“I’m not sure African-American athletes just get to be athletes,” O’Brien says in an interview with theGrio. “Sometimes they are in such a rare rarified air, in such unusual position, especially [like] Arthur Ashe, where they kind of have to leverage their platform and I think he did that incredibly well.”

“[Ashe] took what was fantastic tennis acumen and had this platform by which he brought everyone around to these other issues he cared about –and we’re seeing a lot of Black athletes do that today. I’m not sure that, I don’t think a lot of black athletes just get to say ‘No man, I’m just going to be an athlete. I opt out.’

O’Brien says many of the issues aren’t new,  a new generation has been taking the opportunity to speak up.

“I think they’re living in America today, and obviously we are having a lot of challenge conversations about race, class, and opportunity, and white supremacy… So, I’m encouraged to see many using their platforms and jumping in to direct the discussion the way that they feel that it needs to go and to be a voice for people who really don’t get a platform very often.”

The annual SportsBall 2017, Black Tie & Sneakers Gala of the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health honors individuals and organizations that are making significant contributions to urban communities in the areas of health, education, medical research, community service, and philanthropy.

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