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The Players’ Platform: How the NBA Promotes Social Justice

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Damian Lillard at a protest with many other people supporting Black Lives Matter

The National Basketball Association (NBA) has proven in recent years that it operates as one of the most progressive professional sports leagues. Whether that progress entails giving players more freedom to decide their own destinies or taking a leading role in the public discussion of social justice movements, the NBA continues to set an example of how to promote a positive message through sports.

When the nationwide lockdown in response to the coronavirus took place earlier this year, the NBA temporarily closed down its gymnasiums with the intention of resuming the season at a later date. 

For weeks, discussions within the league and on media outlets raised more questions than answers. Would the season resume? How could they ensure everyone’s safety? Eventually, the NBA decided on a bubble of sorts; the players, coaches, and essential personnel would all quarantine together in the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex and finish out the season isolated from everyone else and the virus.

Then, George Floyd was killed in an act of police brutality.

The minds of the public and the NBA became more focused on the social justice movement taking place in the wake of Floyd’s murder, and the likelihood of the NBA resuming grew bleaker. What ended up happening was a pivotal achievement for the sports world.

In mid-July, teams began to pile into the Orlando facility. However, the isolation in hotel rooms and the fan-less arena were not the only departures from typical NBA basketball. The vast majority of players replaced their last names with slogans advocating for social justice on the backs of their jerseys.

Aerial view of some of the facilities at the Disney complex in Orlando, where the NBA season of 2020 was played.
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Phrases that were used included “Equality” and “Education Reform,” and they were complemented by a massive “Black Lives Matter” message running along the side of the court.

“The NBA has brand permission and a platform to do the things that it does under it, what it represents, but then also how the players themselves feel very free and focused on their own messages,” Byron Spruell, the NBA’s president of league operations, said in a recent interview. “I think in the messaging there’s a lot of education that comes with that too. And the conversations we’re having now are so rich and can have an impact.”

The bubble caps off a season that is now unforgettable. It not only showcases what the league and its players can accomplish when they work in unison, but it also serves as a platform to deliver the powerful message of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Typically, sports act as a distraction for many people. They keep our minds occupied from the daily tribulations going on all around us. However, players and NBA personnel knew that with all the protesting and tension across the country, the bubble needed to be different.

Members of the NBA realized the impact that their bubble might have on social justice movements around the country. “People love sports, and it takes you away from whatever you got going on,” said Fred VanVleet, a guard for the Toronto Raptors. “It’s going to be our job and the league’s job to give you the entertainment and still give you the message at the same time.”

A basketball on an indoor basketball court.
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The NBA is certainly no stranger to advocating for social justice. The league has a reputation of allowing players to use their platform as professional athletes to effect change. The Miami Heat honored Treyvon Martin in 2012 after he was shot and killed. In 2014, Donald Sterling, the then-owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, was recorded using racist hate speech; his players, joined by other teams around the league, peacefully protested his ownership until Sterling was removed from his position.

In recent years, NBA players have led marches calling for social justice, spoken out against violence, and criticized the use of firearms. At the crescendo of the NBA season, the focus was not solely on the two teams left competing for the championship.

During the bubble, players pushed for reform by sitting out games, urging for more diversity in executive roles, and vocally supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. This NBA season will always be remembered, but not for the fact that it marks Lebron James’ tenth trip to the championship or Jimmy Butler’s first.

It will not be remembered for the bubble in Orlando that saved the season either. Those are just the footnotes. The NBA’s relentless pursuit of social justice is more important than any of their successes from this season. Hopefully, this is just the beginning of more sweeping change. In the words of Lebron James, “We want change, no matter how long it takes.”

College Voices

5 Surprisingly Easy Ways to Actually Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions in 2021

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Fireworks above a city on New Year's.
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The year 2020 is finally over, and we have a new year to look forward to! After living ten years in the course of one, you’re ready for the next phase. If you’re anything like the majority of the world’s population, you’ve made New Year’s resolutions in the past—and broken them within a month. But you keep making them, because you enjoy the optimism: beginning a new year on the right foot, promising to be a better, more fit and a more skilled version of yourself. 

Here are ways you can stick to your New Year’s Resolutions in 2021

  1. Tell people about your resolution

Usually, we’re told that peer pressure is a bad thing. But in the case of a New Years’ Resolution, it might be just what you need. Positive reinforcement (encouragement and support) from your friends and family can push you to learn the guitar, lose the beer belly, or whatever it is you want to do in this new year. Disappointment (or the fear of it) can also push you to work harder toward your goal. If the cost of failing on your resolution is a whole bunch of awkward and sad conversations, maybe that’ll keep you on the straight and narrow.

  1. Break it down into manageable chunks

This is something essentially everybody tells you about anything, but it’s true. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step—and continues, step by step. A New Years’ Resolution isn’t accomplished all at once, but rather gradually. Don’t push yourself too hard, and don’t get down on yourself if your goal is still a long way off. Set realistic markers along the way, and at each one check in with yourself. That way, you’ll get a sense of accomplishment as you go, and you’ll see your progress stack up.

  1. Care for yourself

Treat your New Year’s Resolution as what it is: a gift. When you accomplish it, not only will you get the benefit of whatever your goal is, but you’ll feel more confidence and pride in yourself. This feeling of accomplishment is full of benefits: it makes you better poised to chase down the next opportunity, better prepared to be a positive influence in the lives of others, and can even make you live longer. In making a New Years’ Resolution, and caring about yourself, you’re giving the best present you can give yourself, so don’t think of it as correcting something that’s wrong about you, but giving yourself another thing that’s right about you.

  1. Forgive yourself, don’t define yourself 

When a friend who’s made a mistake comes to you for help, do you immediately tell them that they’re worthless, that everybody knows it, and that they should just give up already? No, but this treatment is something of the norm when it comes to yourself. Unfortunately, many of us treat ourselves this way; we are quick to criticize and slow to forgive. Strangely enough, this negative self-talk often gives us permission to betray our resolutions. 

If you resolve, in 2021, to cut down on carbs and one night you give in to the urge to order a bunch of pasta on Postmates, don’t beat yourself up for it the next morning. Accept the mistake and continue working toward your goal the next day. Don’t decide you’re undisciplined, gluttonous, and have failed. Everyone messes up a few times and forgiveness is the best way to move forward. 

Penne pasta in a pot.
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  1. Use your resolution as a chance to explore new horizons 

We all have ideas about who we’d like to be, and we all face the realities of who we are. While a person who wakes up every morning at 6 a.m. and works out in order to get a clean, fresh start to the day is certainly admirable, that person might not be you. In making resolutions, pick goals that flow organically from who you are. If you don’t know who you are (because who really does?) then go into a resolution with flexibility. 

If, for example, your resolution is to get fit, don’t force yourself into a box with it. Instead, try different exercises, intensities, and intervals. Don’t stick yourself in the gym for a 45-minute routine with weights when what you’d really enjoy doing is going to a yoga class or going for a run. Realize that everybody is different, and rather than changing yourself into somebody new, your resolution can be a way of discovering who you might already be. Think of it as an exploration. Let things develop, and commit to remaining open and focused.

A list of Woody Guthrie's New Year's Resolutions on a lined notebook.
Woody Guthrie’s New Year’s Resolutions — a good role model
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The year, 2021 will likely be another challenging year. You already know why, so there’s no reason to repeat it here. But remember that you got through 2020, and if your resolution for 2021 is to just survive it sane, healthy, and maybe a little wiser—that’s totally fine. It’ll take some doing, but you’re definitely further along than you think you are. 

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College Voices

The Overwhelming Mental Health Impact of Climate Change

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Wildfire
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People across the globe are being affected by climate change. Global warming and climate change are having detrimental effects on the Earth such as increased flooding, hotter temperatures, wildfires, and droughts. Wildlife and ecosystems are being destroyed. Sea levels are rising. The list goes on and it can be overwhelming to take in the effects of climate change. This is why mental health is being greatly affected by climate change, particularly in teenagers and college students.

Climate Anxiety

Anxiety related to the global climate and fear of environmental doom is often referred to as eco-anxiety or climate anxiety. This anxiety is a legitimate reaction to a serious problem. A large population of Generation Z is burdened by climate anxiety. This is because they are concerned about their futures considering the state of the Earth and the fatal implications of climate change. 

A contributing factor to climate anxiety is the lack of action currently being taken by political leaders. Many leaders in positions of power are avoiding climate issues rather than solving them. This has prompted members of younger generations to step up and fight for change. Young activists like Greta Thunberg have taken the lead in protesting climate injustices. But watching older generations sit back while climate change is destroying the planet can lead to feelings of frustration and anger, which are common symptoms of climate anxiety.

The mental health effect of climate change
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Climate change can be a controversial topic and there is a fair amount of conflict surrounding it. Everyone reacts differently to the topic: many people shut down when climate change is brought up and they avoid the subject altogether. Others are fearful of the effects of climate change and want to help but feel powerless. And some people are eager to take action and do their part in combating climate change. 

Many teenagers and college students have made efforts to reduce their carbon footprint by making lifestyle changes. Going vegan, carpooling, and shopping sustainably are some of the many ways to cut down on carbon emissions. But unfortunately, big corporations are some of the main contributors to climate change. Greenhouse gas emissions––a major contributor to climate change––are the highest they’ve ever been. This leaves young generations as they have difficulty believing that they can make a difference. 

How Climate Change Affects Mental Health

Every continent on the Earth is now affected by climate change. Meaning, climate anxiety is a global issue and can affect anyone, regardless of location, wealth, or privilege.

A polar bear walking.
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Many people are mentally affected by climate change because they have been faced with natural disasters, such as wildfires, serious storms, or flooding. While everyone reacts and copes differently, many survivors of these environmental disasters have some sort of lasting psychological trauma. PTSD, anxiety, depression, and grief are some of the many mental health issues that people who have lived through natural disasters struggle with. 

But you don’t need to be directly faced with a natural disaster to feel climate anxiety or despair over the state of the Earth. Just witnessing and learning about climate change is enough to cause mental health issues. There’s a sense of impending doom or existential dread that can wash over you when reflecting on climate change and its effects. 

Why Climate Anxiety is Often Overlooked

Climate anxiety is often overlooked or brushed off. This is because it can be difficult to discuss mental health concerns because there are still stigmas surrounding mental health. Climate anxiety is also typically not taken as seriously as other anxieties or mental health issues. This is because many people do not understand the serious, detrimental impacts of climate change. 

What to do About Climate Anxiety

  1. Talk to friends and family about climate change. 

Listen to their thoughts on the matter and discuss your own thoughts. Talk about the negative impacts and grieve with them. It can be healing and helpful to share your concerns with others.  

  1. Become a part of the solution

It is important to stay informed on environmental topics and to use your knowledge for good. Join a climate justice organization at your school or in your community. Connecting with others who also care about climate change can ease your worries and fears about the Earth’s future. Climate organizations are making a difference in your community and educating others on climate change. 

An oil plant dispersing white smoke into the air.
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  1. Join protests. 

If there are protests near you, make a sign and join in. Marching with other people who care about climate injustices is empowering. Protests help spark change by informing others and raising awareness. 

  1. Do what you can to help the environment. 

It is important to do what you can to reduce your own carbon footprint, but don’t become overly consumed with it. Eat a more plant-based diet, bike or carpool when you can, and use reusable bags. But try not to worry about how each of your actions will impact the environment. Those who experience climate anxiety often feel guilty about taking part in activities that affect the environment, like driving. Just do what you can and that will be enough.

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College Voices

How Social Unrest America Mirrors Social Unrest Abroad

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A closeup of a man with a mask on next to virus cells.
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With all of America’s recent and pressing events, it is easy to inadvertently ignore major happenings abroad. However, the COVID-19 pandemic and social unrest are not limited to American soil. 

When the coronavirus began spreading across the globe earlier this year, world leaders reacted to the virus as they saw fit. Fast forward to today, and the virus continues to ravage many parts of the world, increasing the number of total cases to over 50 million people. With the addition of social unrest due to racial injustice, the world seems to have a daunting amount of crises. 

Throughout this difficult time, countries imposed restrictions and limitations on their citizens in order to curb the contagion. In certain places, these limitations persist today. Subsequently, people are growing increasingly impatient as the pandemic remains as present and dangerous as it was in March. Indeed, many experts claim that the feared next wave of the virus is now in effect.

The prevailing threat and restrictions put in place have led citizens in some countries to protest. In Spain, for example, citizens have flooded city streets touting messages such as “Stop the dictatorship” or “Madrid says enough.” Unfortunately, certain rabble-rousers have taken it upon themselves to escalate these protests into less peaceful demonstrations of social unrest.

A man holding his hands in the air while being approached by SWAT officers.
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In Madrid, rioters turned unnecessarily violent, setting fires in the city, smashing windows of local shops, and assaulting police officers. These riots do not appear to be the result of spontaneous action but rather a coordinated effort planned through social media.

If the story of peaceful protests being undermined by violent extremists sounds familiar, you may be remembering the various riots that took place in America. The George Floyd protests, unfortunately, broke down into senseless social unrest, resulting in property damage and theft to numerous cities throughout America.

Just as the coronavirus pandemic is not isolated to this country, public assemblies due to racial injustice have also formed globally. As protests advocating for social justice started in American cities, foreign citizens heard the rallying cries. Demonstrations from South America to Europe, to Africa, have echoed the message of the Black Lives Matter movement, demanding justice and equality for all citizens, regardless of skin color. A spokesperson for the Belgian Network for Black Lives, Stephanie Collingwoode-Williams reflected, “people think about how it was relevant where we are.” 

A march for diversity in Washington.
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Although American protesters set positive trends to confront one crisis, its leaders have not been as successful in combatting the coronavirus. Out of the roughly 1.27 million deaths suffered worldwide, 239,000 of them were American.

This is by far the largest death toll of any country; in addition, America also holds the record for the most cases, by well over one million. These eye-opening statistics naturally lead to critics pointing to this nation’s shortcomings in dealing with the virus. A recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center found that throughout Donald Trump’s presidency, worldwide perceptions of America have been in decline. Recent violent outbursts from police officers, coupled with the mismanagement of the pandemic, have exacerbated this fall.

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