This past year there was no shortage of people who tried to leverage the sports world to boldly speak out on issues beyond the field of play.
In the United States, Missouri football players went on strike against racism; the remarkable activists in Boston — led in many neighbourhoods by people of colour and women — kept out the rapacious Olympics; the continuing fight ahead of the 2016 Rio Olympics is taking on both the International Olympic Committee and the Brazilian government.
South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier spoke out against the Confederate flag before and after the Dylann Roof murders in South Carolina. Tennis legend Serena Williams returned to Indian Wells 14 years after being showered with racist invective by “fans” — a return she combined with raising funds for the Equal Justice Initiative. I could name many more examples.
We are clearly in a sports moment when social crisis and inflamed bigotry, conjoined with social media, has created a space for athletes to take their beliefs straight to the public. It is courageous, and it matters, puncturing the privilege that surrounds the lives of so many fans.
That being said, I will not remember the past 12 months primarily for the aforementioned athletic actions. For me, 2015 will be recalled as the Year of Women in sports: a time when female athletes muscled for centre stage and masses of people — men and women — put aside their prejudices to join the party.
In June, this moment crystallised for me when my seven-year-old, sports-obsessed son asked me to name my top five must-see athletes. The five mentioned off the top of my head were Serena Williams, soccer star Lionel Messi, NBA star Steph Curry, mixed-martial artist Ronda Rousey and pro wrestler Sasha Banks. It was only after speaking that I did the double take at the ratio.[…]