Do professional athletes have a responsibility to know history? In December 2010, I returned from vacation to a news flurry and question from one of our teachers about Kobe Bryant, Turkey and the Armenian genocide. The teacher shared this article from the LA Times: Kobe Bryant's deal with Turkish Airlines Outrages Armenian Americans
In brief, Kobe had signed a marketing deal with Turkish Airlines which sparked quite a backlash from Armenian Americans filling the social media and radio airwaves with demands for "righting this wrong," and potentially boycotting Kobe and the Lakers. (Click here to hear Turkish ScholarTaner Akcam share why it is important to recognize the Armenian genocide.) I thought of some of my male students who loved basketball and would read the Sports Page every chance they got and smiled. This would definitely raise curiosity! Two years later, it still resonates with some students, so I've brought a few ideas over from our old site.
This quote from the LA Times article particularly struck me: "Kobe is a champion of national basketball and should be a champion of human rights."
Hmmmm. Do you agree? Do I agree? I'd like everybody to be a champion for human rights. But, do national basketball champions have a greater responsibility than others?
I do love that this article on the sports page might get students and other sports fans asking questions about history, and so did our teacher! He and other teachers I know have used this article as an introductory reading to get students asking questions before they learn about the Armenian genocide.
Here are some of the questions which could help explore the issues raised:
- Why did Kobe's marketing deal create such a backlash? Why is recognition of the Armenian Genocide an issue with such passion so many years after the genocide itself? What was the genocide?
- What actions that can be taken so many years after the event to "right a wrong"? To see a toolbox of ideas for seeking justice, click here for Facing History's Transitional Justice module.
- What are Kobe’s options now? Does he have alternatives to breaking the contract?
- Should corporations and/or quasi-governmental agencies also be targets of political action?
- How do new forms of media (particularly the social media sites they reference fans using) allow greater activism? or do they?
Has anything happened since 2010 on this front? I'd love some help on that question! Any Lakers fans out there? I know I've seen Kobe on TV for Turkish Airlines, and I see the traffic on Lakers game nights. Has Armenian attendance dropped? Behind the scenes deals or agreements?
Regardless, it's a teachable moment. What can we learn from this situation about possible responses when we see something we disagree with? How can we make our views known? How do we sustain visibility of an issue we think is important?