Last month, Oklahoma City Thunder player Enes Kanter, a Turkish national, was detained by Romanian authorities at the airport after his passport was revoked by Turkey. Kanter, a vocal critic of Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has used his profile as an international athlete to highlight the many humanitarian and political issues currently taking place under President Erdogan.
While detained, he took to social media to voice his disdain and reaffirm his commitment to using his platform as a beacon of free speech for silenced opposition.
I'm being held at Romanian airport by Police!! pic.twitter.com/uYZMBqKx54
— Enes Kanter (@Enes_Kanter) May 20, 2017
It brought to the forefront the many global storylines that are seamlessly woven into the fabric of our lives that for a specific moment allowed Americans to put a face to an international conflict that exists just outside of our purview.
Athletes exist in this weird space where they’re deified individuals within our culture but also wield a considerable bit of cultural power that can be cultivated as a catalyst for change.
In the case of Kanter, plunged into the middle of Jason Bourne-like scandal, moonlighted as a political dissenter while in the midst of a world tour for his charitable foundation.
— Enes Kanter (@Enes_Kanter) May 27, 2017
In one of the better trends that seem to be proliferating pop culture, at least within the pro sports world, athletes have wholeheartedly thrown themselves into charitable work with a corporate-like mentality about efficient charities and substantial foundations.
At the pinnacle of this trend is Ivorian soccer star Didier Drogba. Drogba is a former captain and all-time top scorer of the Côte d’Ivoire national football team. He made his name playing in England with Chelsea F.C. and was named by fans as the best player of all time. Currently playing with the Phoenix City Fire in the NASL after a two-year stint with the Montreal Impact in the MLS, he’s also been a UNDP Goodwill Ambassador since 2007 and has been an outspoken supporter to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.
Most recently, Drogba was named to the board of directors of Canadian company Encanto Potash Corp. Leading the way in sustainable agriculture, the partnership will allow Drogba to push his humanitarian agenda and push Encanto into further partnerships in the developing world.
If that wasn’t a lengthy enough resume, Drogba has also found time to end a civil war.
Ultimately, we celebrate athletes for their successes within sport, but taking a wider look at the narrative of sports and the place it holds within pop culture, athletes like Enes Kanter and Didier Drogba help to broaden our outlook and hopefully inspire others to enact a bit of charity into our daily lives.