November 5, 2018

(photo left to right: Moderator Olympian Leslie Maxie, Essence Carson, Meghan Klingenberg, Brandon Williams and Walter Powell)

More Than An Athlete Panel’ Explores How Today’s Athletes are Using their Voices

“Shut up and dribble.”

For those in attendance at BrandForward’s Athlete x Brand summit in Los Angeles this past month, this line was universally met with an eye roll.

While some try to put parameters on what professional athlete should or shouldn’t comment on, it was clear from the panelists on the “More Than An Athlete: Passions and Pursuits While Playing” panel that they would continue using their platform to speak about what matters most to them. The panel featured the perspectives of four professional athletes who have all pursued other passions while playing, and today are flexing their muscles as the CEOs of their own brands.

Current member of the Portland Thorns and U.S. Women’s National Team (USNWT), Meghan Klingenberg, was quick to point out the hypocrisy behind the “shut up and dribble” sentiment.

“Especially as a female athlete, a lot of people look at us and say ‘you’re a great role model and would be a great role model for our kids’,” explains Klingenberg. “They want us to do charity work and speak intelligently in the media, but at the same time, when we want to talk about something we care about, we have to stick to our sports? They don’t want us to stick to sports in anything else we do.”

Meghan has become a role model because she’s used her voice to ensure the interests of her fellow teammates are being valued and considered. After the team won the Women’s World Cup in 2015, Klingenberg sat her teammates down and educated them on how they could turn their players union into an organization that not only advocates for player rights but also create commercial opportunities for their players.

For WNBA champion Essence Carson, one of the things that drives her is the opportunity to help youth see through the picture-perfect portrayal of life as depicted by entertainment shows and the media, and understand that they should dream big too.

“Why do we keep broadcasting to young children you need to be perfect to get to this level? You don’t. Children need to learn how to fall, how to fail, and how to dust yourself off and try again,” says Carson. “In this day and age, we understand that we (athletes) affect this world. We affect children. We affect adults. We have a platform so why not use that platform to blast out what you truly believe, especially if those things are morally right and if they can empower your neighbor.”

Today, the LA Sparks player and hip-hop artist and producer under the name Pr3pE,  uses her voice to speak to young girls about perseverance and finding inner strength to help them on their own journeys in finding their personal passions. Encouraged to pursue her passion for both basketball and music from a young age by her grandparents, Carson never allowed herself to be limited by circumstance.

For Walter Powell Jr., it was a sense of purpose that spurred him to use his voice full-time. Retiring after four years of professional play, Powell decided to step away from football to focus on developing the nonpartisan political information app Politiscope along with his brother Brandon Williams. An avid user of social media, Walter saw how he could use his platform to encourage greater civic engagement.

“Two years ago, Brandon asked me what my purpose was. I knew football was a passion but what was my purpose?” recalls Powell. “I always knew I wanted to help people and do something for them off the field. So once I came up with this idea around Politiscope, I felt like my purpose was to make people wake up to what really matters. And that’s bringing transparency to politics in a simple form.”

A “player profile for politicians,” Politiscope has been designed to provide unbiased information on bills, politicians and elections, as well as encourage Americans to vote and hold elected officials accountable. For Powell, comments like “shut up and dribble” just encourage him even more to use his voice for good.

With today’s athletes having a greater understanding of how their platform carries power and influence, Brandon Williams believes that now more than ever, athletes can strengthen their individual voices through knowledge and education.   

“I believe there has been a paradigm shift within the athlete community. We no longer see ourselves as only athletes. We are more conscious of what is going on in our communities,” says Williams. “We’re humans first and registered voters, so because of that, it’s important that athletes are informed.”

In addition to supporting Politiscope, Williams has focused on helping athletes understand the importance of financial literacy, and building a plan while they are playing and not just when they are done with sport. His book – Millionaire Mindset – 7 Principles Athletes Need to Gain Financial Freedomwas borne out of the lessons he had to learn on his own as he became a professional athlete, lessons that he believes can help all athletes build towards the long-term future.

While comments like “shut up and dribble” might have garnered a few headlines, what was most inspiring to see through this panel was how athletes like Klingenberg, Carson, Powell and Williams are not only using their platform sharing their thoughts and opinions, but also their voice on behalf of or in support of others.  

“When athletes discover and define their purpose off the field of play, they have the opportunity through their platform to create real impact,” said Patty Hubbard, co-founder of BrandForward and where their accomplishments have the potential to create lasting and meaningful change. “We want every athlete to understand the power of that their voice can hold and how they can best tap into their platforms to use that voice for good, no matter where they are in their playing career.”

Produced by BrandForward, Athlete x Brand is the summit for next-generation athlete brands. A one-day gathering of some of the top leaders in the sports industry, the 2018 Athlete x Brand included insights, strategies and insights from athletes, CMOs, brand managers, marketers, agents, player associations and Fortune 500 companies. For more information, visit www.athletebrandsummit.com

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