Ahead of the 2017 ESPY Awards tonight, we started thinking about the qualities that make a true champion. Someone with skill, sure, but most important, someone who is a team player. For that reason, we decided to round up a few male athletes who are MVP-worthy in our books for the way they are actual champions of gender equality.
It goes without saying that gender doesn't and shouldn't have anything to do with a person's ability or talents on or off the court. However, with women in most of the world still fighting for fundamental rights and with women in America facing blatant sexism and misogyny on the daily, gender equality isn't a reality yet.
Male athletes have a tremendous platform to campaign for the equality of their female counterparts — much more so than female athletes, sadly. As such, it's always refreshing to see when these sporty guys take a much-needed stand for women.
Here are 15 athletes who we hope can set an example for male athletes everywhere.
Is this the land history promised? This field of play. Where the dream of fairness and mutual respect lives on. Where you are defined by actions, not your looks and beliefs. For too long these ideals have taken refuge inside these lines. Equality should have no boundaries. The bond between players should exist between people. Opportunity should be indiscriminate. Worth should outshine color. The ball should bounce the same for everyone. If we can be equals here, we can be equals everywhere. #EQUALITY #nike
James, Durant and Cruz all stood front and center of Nike's new 2017 Equality campaign, which underscores that "Equality should have no boundaries. The bond between players should exist between people. Opportunity should be indiscriminate."
James — along with fellow NBA'ers Curry, Westbrook, Dowry, Bosh and Wade — also played a major part in Sheryl Sandberg's partnership with the NBA and WNBA last year for the #LeanIn campaign. The special partnership encouraged men to contribute more around the home and to stand up for women's rights.
Hey, perhaps more celebrity athletes should take a cue from the youth of America. In 2013, led by then-senior Tyler Olkowski, the male athletes at this elite boarding school penned an unprecedented Letter to the Editor of the school newspaper, the Phillipian. In it, the young men tackled the sexist issues plaguing the sports culture on their campus.
"Male athlete culture plays a leading role in Andover’s imbalanced hook-up culture, classroom dynamics and even in defining the gender roles of females on campus that younger students emulate and eventually internalize," they wrote. "As we look back on our times on varsity sports here at Andover, it is easy to find highlight reels of our best moments, whether it was a winning goal or touchdown. Despite these athletic feats, our collective character has been tainted by the objectification and sexism that pervade athlete culture.”
The young men then proposed ways to fix the pervasive sports culture in a way that would be more representative of a gender-balanced society. More of this, please!
As a continuation of the Equality campaign, Nike brought its message to the 2017 NBA All-Star game in New Orleans, Louisiana. Female athletes worked alongside male athletes like Davis, DeRozan, Towns and George to spread the sentiment of equality on and off the court. In doing so, and in working with eager aspiring athletes, they're shaping the next generation of forward-thinking sports stars.
In a Sports Illustrated interview last year, Green, a forward for the Golden State Warriors, openly and of his own accord carved out a few minutes to gush about WNBA basketball and, most pointedly, the skill level of its players. "In the NBA, there's always a guy who is only around because he can jump," Green said. "He doesn't have a clue about the fundamentals. I learn more from the WNBA. They know how to dribble, how to pivot, how to use the shot fake." While it shouldn't take an NBA star to shine a spotlight on the incredible talent of these female athletes, Green's comment did create conversation around the ladies' league. WNBA players didn't waste any time expressing their appreciation for the kind words.
When it comes to male athletes striving to support and empower women, you can't get much more badass than McPherson. The former NFL player and proud self-professed feminist has spent his nearly three decades in the limelight fighting for a variety of social causes, especially gender equality.
In a searingly honest op-ed for CNN, he spoke out against violence against women (with a correlation to male athletes and violence against women), saying, "Men do not just need to stop being violent. The vast majority of men are not violent. But men do need to stop being silent. Calling violence against women, whether street harassment or sexual harassment or rape or murder, a 'women’s issue' allows men to ignore it as if we have no responsibility for it or stake in ending it. We all have grandmothers, mothers, sisters, daughters and female friends and colleagues. Our lives are inextricably interwoven; women's issues of safety and equality directly affect our lives as men. Beyond that, women are humans, with the same rights to safety and freedom as men. It is therefore our moral responsibility to not remain silent or passively on the sidelines, but to be actively engaged in confronting this problem in every corner of homes, communities, and societies."
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