First and foremost, Von Miller ranks very high on my favorite things from Texas (he’s up there with Blue Bell ice cream and Torchy’s). He’s from the city of Dallas and attended Texas A&M University to study poultry sciences (yes, you read that right, chickens!). Currently, he’s an outside linebacker for the Denver Broncos, and the Denver fans adore him. Unfortunately, I’m not about to talk about his stats or football playing ability. Spend a Sunday watching the Broncos and see Von Miller in action.
Sports naturally lend a platform where Black athletes can offer visual representation for a group of people who look like them. The down side comes from the box Black athletes can be placed in, the “stick to sports” commentary that runs rampant, and the longevity of many athletes’ careers (short). Many athletes have sponsorship deals, which can kind of be a way to humanize them off the field/court, a necessary career move when their career could be cut short at any moment because of an injury. Sponsorship deals also lend athletes a way to really show their personality more than just who they are during game time.
Recently, Von Miller partnered with Carhartt. The only people I know who wear Carhartt are folks I attended college (in Wyoming) with and worked on ranches or farms. I’m sure I’ve met city kids who wear Carhartt (because it’s warm and practical), but the brand doesn’t carry an image that necessarily markets to folks who seek out brands like Calvin Klein. When I read that Von Miller was partnering with Carhartt I was taken aback and then realized that it was a smart business move for both parties. Of any Black athlete, Von Miller (with his chickens and agriculture background) is perfect for Carhartt. He embraces the hard work ethic associated with the Carhartt brand. The video campaign that accompanied this deal included videos of Von thanking farmers, ranchers and servicemen, and it was really dope. There wasn’t necessarily an agenda being pushed (other than to buy more Carhartt stuff). The company chose an ambassador who represents the brand well and also appeals to the masses.
Basically, Von Miller makes being unashamed of who you are seem like a good idea (because, duh, it is). He’s unashamed about the things that bring him joy, from going to Avs games, huntin’, fishin’, lovin’ everyday, and just shattering expectations for what a Black man can have an interest in. He’s a complex individual, as we all are, and sharing that openly. The impact goes beyond just having a cool social media presence. He’s showing that Black culture does not have to look any one way for a Black athlete, or really anyone. Everyone is walking their own path, they should be encouraged to experience things outside of what’s “normal” for their culture (and normal is relative). So what if we’re not used to Black football players becoming big hockey fans? The more it happens, the more we think of it as normal. Soon hip-hop artists will be opening for the Stanley Cup Final in addition to the country musicians. This may seem like such a small thing, but Von Miller is setting an example of representation in ways that allows young Black people to see a successful Black man step outside of social norms while maintaining that image of being a Black man in America. You can have both Chacos and Air Force Ones in your closet.
Now, juxtaposing Von and other Black football players such as Michael Bennett or Colin Kaepernick may cause some feelings to stir up inside you. Maybe you’ve started to assume Black football players are all about social activism in one specific way. Not only does this limit what activism can accomplish, but it’s just another way of putting Black athletes in a box for either being an activist or “sticking to sports”. Not everyone wants to be an activist the same way as Colin Kaepernick or Tommie Smith, and that’s perfectly okay (seriously, not everyone has the burning desire to pick up that torch). As it turns out, every person of color is different and is motivated by different things (shocking, I know). Somehow, what Von Miller brings to the table still counts as representation. Yes, as a person of color in the media influencing people, he sits in a position of power for showing a certain group representation. He’s showing them that it’s okay for a football player who’s into agriculture, owns chickens, sends his own branded wine as a gift, and just in general lives life as a multifaceted individual, to not separate from being Black.
There’s no one way to be Black, and that needs to be shared repeatedly to young Black people. Within our own sub group, we can be very judgmental and closed to new experiences because they don’t fit an image we’ve been force fed our who lives. Again, this is why we need to see representation, so we’re not stuck thinking that the only way to be a Black athlete is to either be an activist or a Nike model. Having diverse interests just opens the door for more conversations and learning. Unfortunately, part of getting people buy in is to see images of Black people in traditionally “white” roles in society. I think we’ll get there the more we encourage young Black folks to pursue their interests in STEM, music, politics, education, finance, everything and anything outside of sports because they can be something other than an athlete. However, if that’s what they choose to be, there isn’t one certain way to be a professional athlete, I mean, just look at Von.