The rise of player empowerment

(News4usonline) – Gone are the days of athlete reliance on corporations and media to promote their brand. Modern-day sports stars have everything they need to build their following at the touch of a button. Since the rise of multimedia and social media, self-promotion has taken over the sports world.

Athletics is one of the capitals of entertainment across the entire globe. Major sports leagues like the NBA and NFL have done a fabulous job promoting superstar players to raise marketability. Over the last 25 years, we have seen a shift in the culture that has allowed athletes to enable themselves.

Draymond Green, and all of his bluster, was not enough to help the Goilden State Warriors win two NBA titles in a row. Photo credit: Kevin Reece/

In the nineties, there was a basketball player named Michael Jordan. Jordan transcended the game in ways that no one had before. He was more significant than the team he played for or the league he played in. MJ’s greatness and persona on and off the court paved the way for the modern player to be more than just an athlete.

“I remember being in sixth grade and selling candy for at least two months so I could get a pair of the Air Jordan 4s… When you had a pair of Jordans in the 90s, you were the man… Just his off-the-court presence, everybody wanted to watch Michael Jordan. What was he doing? Chewing gum… Not only did people want to be like him on the court, but off the court, you wanted to be as close to him as you could (be),” said NBA champion Paul Pierce.

The success of the Jordan brand has led to the realization that the athlete is just as if not more marketable than the sport. Shaquille O’Neal became a renaissance man carving out a career as a rapper, actor, DJ, and NBA analyst to go along with his many business endeavors. Lebron James has also created an empire of his own, dabbling in a little bit of everything off the court while being proclaimed a “player, GM, and coach” on the court. They have set the standard for the new age of athletes.

Focus and intensity: Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James has been a picture of focus throughout the NBA’s 2019-20 season, including the postseason. James scored 38 points and led the Lakers to a 116-108 Game 3 win against the Portland Trail Blazers in the team’s first-round playoff series. File photo/Mark Hammond for News4usonline

The past few decades have seen the introduction of new media like YouTube and Instagram. These multimedia websites have raised the climate of player empowerment to an all-time high.

“We Don’t need the big companies. They need us,” said Lavar Ball in an article he wrote for Slam Magazine in 2017.

Lavar famously launched his own apparel company Big Baller Brand for his three sons, Lonzo, LiAngelo, and LaMelo, in 2016. At the time, none were NBA players, but due to highlight videos and extensive social media followings, the three young players were already stars. Lonzo became the first player to enter the NBA with a signature shoe.

Around the same time, we saw active players start their own podcasts. In 2017 Richard Jefferson and Channing Frye cohosted Road Trippin’, a show where they interviewed other members of the Cleveland Cavaliers while traveling to away games. JJ Reddick also started a podcast, The Old Man and the Three, where he interviewed the league’s top players while also telling stories about his playing career. Jefferson and Reddick have turned their behind-the-mic careers into big-time roles as ESPN analysts and are still releasing episodes of their shows.

“At the end of the day, I feel like that is what the fans want to hear from… no disrespect, shout out Stephen A, but they want to hear it from the athletes. They want to hear it from our side,” said Paul George on his new show, Podcast P.

Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Mookie Betts at the plate against the San Diego Padres. Betts led the Dodgers into postseason play. Photo by Melinda Meijer/News4usonline

Fast forward to 2023, and most of the best sports content comes straight from the athlete’s perspective. Los Angeles Dodgers superstar Mookie Betts started a baseball podcast, On Base, earlier this year. Former All-NBA point guard Gilbert Arenas has a youtube show, Gil’s Arena, that has gained a lot of steam. Current NBA stud defenders Draymond Green and Patrick Beverly have also taken the podcast game to the next level, providing NBA analysis immediately after games at times on their programs, The Draymond Green Show and The Pat Bev Podcast with Rone.

“The way I view my podcast is that I’m operating a business… So, it’s something that I take as seriously as I do basketball. And so, if I’m going to show up for the game, I show up for (the podcast), or it doesn’t work,” said Draymond in an interview with The Athletic.

Pat McAfee is another former athlete who built his brand through social media and Youtube. While playing in the NFL, McAfee was regarded as one of the most likable players in the league despite being a punter. He amassed a large Twitter following by being himself and interacting with fans.

McAfee was a great punter but has become a better sports show host. The Pat McAfee Show first aired in 2017 and has since become one of the most successful shows in sports media due to its personability and easy-going nature.

LeMelo Ball brings the ball up the court against the Los Angeles Clippers in 2021. Photo by Mark Hammond/News4usonline

“Our show is what a lot of these suit folk now view as the future of daily sports talk… A few years back, none of these networks would even give me a meeting; now, we are the tip of the spear of what sports media needs to be in its next chapter,” McAfee said on his show after inking a partnership with ESPN last month. “I am honored that what the boys, our fans, and I have created has been studied, accepted, and ultimately appreciated by these multi-billion dollar networks with hundreds if not thousands of employees.”

According to RBC Wealth Management, the average athlete will retire from their sport before the age of 30. It can be challenging to grasp as a star athlete, but the reality is making money after their playing careers are over is essential. The more players can promote themselves and build their brand, the better, and there has never been a more opportunistic time to do so.

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