Athletes have a platform to promote issues, though their message or action doesn't always sit well with fans.
"They have the opportunity to use free speech, but there are also consequences that come with that, and I think Colin saw some of that this year. He obviously put himself out there on a limb, and there were negative things to him," said Jed York, the CEO of the San Francisco 49ers.
He was among a group outspoken pro-sport stars gathered on Tuesday to discuss the future of activism by players.
The Institute for the Study of Sport, Society and Social Change at San Jose State held a town hall meeting featuring Tommie Smith, along with stand-outs from the NFL and NBA, to project where activism
among athletes is heading. Among them, Jim Brown, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Chris Webber.
2015 NFL Man of the Year, Anquan Boldin, believes the outcome of the presidential election has created a wall that will be difficult to penetrate.
"Nobody listens to each other no more. It's, this is what I want, and it needs to go this way. Forget how you feel, what you think, but in order for any progress to be made, there has to be communication between both parts," he said.
Jocelyn Benson is CEO of Rise - the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality, a nonprofit group trying to improve race relations and social progress through sports. She believes athletes play a crucial role in social change.
"We've found across the board that athletes get people in the room. They get people talking when they other wouldn't talk, and that is how we listen to each other and how we actually bridge the divide right now, on what can be very controversial issues."