My name is Dr. Marshall Shepherd. I am husband, a father, a CD collector, an average golfer (better tennis player), an African-American, a U.S. citizen, a former NASA scientist, a professor, and a meteorologist. Even with that introduction, it probably does not fully capture who I am as a person. Did you notice that I did not define myself as a meteorologist? I don’t walk around with a shirt that says “weather,” and I promise you can have discussions with me about things having noting to do with weather. I promise. I love weather and have since 6th grade, but I am fully capable of discussing other things in life. In fact, life has mandated that I discuss other things. This leads me to the “stick to weather” (sports or rapping) narrative that you see at times. As someone who experiences this phenomenon, let’s explore why it is so flawed, at best, and perhaps even sinister.
It is not a new phenomenon. Athletes like Jesse Owens and Muhammed Ali were often vocal about things going on around them and encountered pushback because of it. More recently, Colin Kaepernick and Lebron James have come under similar scrutiny and criticism. Just shut up and throw or dribble the ball is often uttered. Interestingly, a 2019 study in the Journal of Sport Behavior found that people had more negative perceptions of athletes who engaged in some form of activism and cautioned that it could hurt their “brand.” Oddly, the same people that say “stick to sports” rarely chime in when certain actors, game show hosts, or even other sports athletes weigh in on such issues.
Increasingly people are shedding their images as just an “athlete, actor, and so on” as issues of social justice, voter suppression, and climate change” fester. Crystal Dunn is a professional soccer player that has spoken out on equal pay issues and racial justice. She told Yahoo Sports writer Vinciane Ngomsi, “One thing critics fail to remember is I’m a human being above anything else. Why shouldn’t I be allowed to speak on matters that directly affect me….”
I agree with her. Typically, when I get the “stick to weather” Tweet it is usually from a “bot” with 8 followers and no profile picture. However, it also comes from people that apparently disagree with something. It is also bizarre because there is nothing that suggests that my engagement on social media will be exclusively about weather, climate, or science. I am always reminded of the announcement on airplanes acknowledging that “you have a choice” in whom to fly (or in this case follow). If I do not like what someone is sharing in social media, I simply unfollow them rather than try to impose my worldview on them or lecture them in their own personal spaces. My personal marinade includes:
- Growing up in a single parent home
- Being insulted with the word that starts with the one after “m”
- Questioning because I “matched”description of car thieves in the area
- Raising two kids
For these reasons, I will never just talk about hurricanes or the Polar Vortex within the current societal context.
Beyond the arrogance of people that say “stick to weather”, there has to be something else. It is baffling to me that someone could be so narrow in their perspective that they would encourage another person to suppress their perspective on things they have experienced. It is even more baffling when they get hostile or angry. How did we get to this point? A 2016 Pew Study found that members of the two major political parties actually fear each other. I suspect it is the deluge of false information, confirmation bias (consuming information that conforms to what you already believe), and echo chambers. Even after the 2020 U.S. Presidential election, there is evidence that people are fleeing deeper into their echo chambers or “tribes.”
I am a solutions person. I naively hope that we can get to a point where people are not threatened by differing view points or the desire to suppress them. The Better Arguments Project is a partnership that emerged in 2018 to to help bridge the gap of ideological divides and promote better argument strategies. Sarah DiGiulio also offers some outstanding tips for talking with people that you disagree with. Even with these resources, I have some personal ground rules that I abide by:
- Respect my personal space
- Do not lecture me
- Respect and employ actual facts rather than innuendo, unsupported claims, or citations from non-credible sources
- Have a thick enough skin to withstand a different perspective