African-American athletes use their prominence and clout with increasing savvy and courage, borrowing what they know about branding to effect social change.

Today, there is a new brand of black athlete. They’re courageous, high profile, and smarter than you think. These men and women are undoubtedly trendsetters who know how to use the power of their bodies to sell accessories. In our sports- and celebrity-obsessed culture, when these athletes wear tattoos, over-the-ear headphones, eyeglasses, sneakers, hats, and watches, they ensure these items get more play. They recognize their ability to influence.

But we are way beyond mere endorsements here. Increasingly, these athletes are using the power of their voices for change.

It hasn’t always been this way.

The outpouring for Muhammad Ali when he died obscured the extent to which many reviled him initially and how much he suffered professionally and financially for expressing his views. Similarly, the Olympic committee suspended John Carlos and Tommie Smith for their Black Power salute during the 1968 Olympics, and their careers met similar fates. High-profile athletes who followed, like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Tiger Woods remained largely silent on political and social issues, focusing on pleasing sponsors. Times have changed.

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