Editorial: Athlete took powerful step by joining hunger strike

Esteban Diaz | Editorial Cartoonist
Esteban Diaz | Editorial Cartoonist

It’s one thing to have a strong opinion on a certain issue. It’s another to sacrifice something to further that cause.

University of Virginia football player Joseph Williams participated in an eight-day hunger strike organized by a campaign called “Living Wage at UVA.” The campaign seeks to improve the wages of service employees at the university in order to meet the cost of living in the Charlottesville, Va., area, which Williams said is 10 percent higher than the national average.

Williams is among 15-20 students who either participated or are still participating in the hunger strike, but he is being highlighted because he is a member of the Virginia football team.

Williams’ involvement in the strike brought publicity to the cause and may play a role in a final decision from the university.

Kudos to Williams for that. He has taken his role as a player and used it to benefit those less fortunate.

ESPN, the Chicago Sun-Times and multiple other news outlets picked up the story. While these stories focus on Williams’ backstory — he was raised by a single mother with three siblings — the exposure has still brought attention to his cause.

There is a perception that athletes can jump on the bandwagon of an issue without really being involved or knowing what they are talking about. There is nothing necessarily wrong with that, as the exposure can still help further the cause. Williams, however, is not among this stereotype. In his appearance on ESPN’s Outside the Lines, he answered every question with relevant facts and statistics (including the aforementioned percentage), and talked about how he lived in a homeless shelter though he and two of his siblings still managed to go to college.

According to the ESPN article on Williams, he estimates his family moved 30 times when he was young. He also remembers what it is like to go without meals, electricity or water.

It would be great to see more athletes and public figures use their fame to benefit campaigns like “Living Wage.” This is not to say athletes do not do this; after all, Baylor’s most famous athlete, Robert Griffin III, volunteered with Special Olympics while he was in school. Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow invited kids from the Make-A-Wish Foundation and their families to meet with him before and after games. Hopefully more athletes take time to get involved in social justice issues.

And Williams is highly involved in an issue that spans beyond Virginia. In 2008, the Baylor Board of Regents voted to raise the minimum wage for permanent service workers from $5.85 to $7. Baylor Students for Social Justice was actively involved and started a petition at the time.

Is there anything more Christ-like than sacrificing something to help those less fortunate? Baylor handled the issue well four years ago, and now hopefully Williams’ effort will lead to Virginia doing the same thing.