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President Bill Clinton on sports activism: ‘Athletes are people, too’

(Andrew Chin/Getty Images)

Former President Bill Clinton stopped by the NETLIFE podcast this week to talk with Dawn Staley about the intersection of sports and politics.

The 42nd President of the United States remembers the support he received from athletes like Hank Aaron and Magic Johnson, and the impact it had on his personal political campaigns and broader social progression.

“I have seen this build up over a long period of time,” President Clinton tells Staley. “Athletes are people, too.”

Johnson, Clinton recalls, changed the way American politicians approached the AIDS epidemic, helping shift public perception in the 1990s.

“He made a real impact on people just because he didn’t run away from it, he didn’t shy away from it,” Clinton says. “He took the whole issue out in the bright day and explained it.”

The former President also remembers joining forces with the late Kobe Bryant and his wife, Vanessa Bryant, to open a new housing development as a way to combat homelessness and mental health crises. Step Up on Vine Hollywood launched in 2013 as one of many projects Bryant supported in his commitment to addressing the issue.

“I think more and more athletes realize that they’re also citizens, they’re parents, they’re people who have a stake in making a world that is good for everybody to live in,” Clinton says. “I think that’s a really good thing.”

While he acknowledges the work can be alienating, Clinton says it’s crucial for athletes to be vocal about contemporary, and sometimes divisive, issues.

“Obviously, they want to have supporters that are members of both parties or believe different things, but if you believe something and you think it affects the quality of your children’s future or the people and issues you care about, I think it’s a good thing to speak out,” he says.

For more of President Clinton’s conversation with Staley, listen to the latest episode of NETLIFE.