Let’s identify two ridiculous ideas at the top of this blog post:
- Professional athletes should not engage in social and political debates
- Sports and politics should not mix.
Baloney and baloney.
Sports fans were hit by a once-in-a-lifetime event on Wednesday, when more than one-dozen games, across four professional leagues, never happened because athletes, taking the lead of their brethren in the National Basketball Association, refused to play so as to call attention to another case of police brutality. The reaction across the sports fans’ world was as expected: A hearty amount of “good for them” and an equally large “can they just play the games, please.”
The “good for them” crowd deserves applause for supporting those athletes. The Negative Nicks and Nancys should have kept their opinions to themselves; in opening their mouths (or taking to social media to offer their two cents), they demonstrated an incredible ignorance to the real world.
But that crowd often chooses to ignore what’s happening around them.
Michael Jordan remains the greatest professional basketball player who has ever lived. Jordan was celebrated by millions of fans for his amazing talent. But he also was acceptable to the majority white population throughout his career because he refused to engage in political discussions about inequality and more. To borrow a callous phrase currently en vogue, he stayed in his lane.
Muhammad Ali was the greatest professional boxer who ever lived. Ali was stripped of his titles and deemed anti-American because he refused to fight for the United States during the Vietnam War and vocally criticized the war as a whole. It was only later in his life that he was rehabilitated, so to speak, and his anti-war stance was validated because he was seen as having been on the right side of history.
Tiger Woods was lauded by overwhelmingly white corporate America for his tremendous golf skills throughout the first decade or so of his career, but also because he didn’t rock the boat. He has largely remained silent about social issues, and that’s helped him grow his amazingly fat bank account.
Colin Kaepernick took a knee while the national anthem played; he went from a young quarterback who almost rallied his team to a Super Bowl championship to a pariah. Enough said.
American society and the media pressure black athletes to publicly discuss their opinions relating to inequality and social injustice, while placing no such responsibility on white athletes. Generally speaking, black athletes who smile, nod and say nothing are rewarded; those who dare to question the power relations in this country find themselves ostracized.
You think I’m wrong? Has golfer Phil Mickelson been repeatedly pressured to discuss police brutality? How often has baseball star Clayton Kershaw been asked to opine about social injustice? Does anyone know what gold-medal winning hockey player Amanda Kessel thinks about economic inequality?
It’s unfair that sports journalists demand black athletes, and only black athletes, review what’s happening in America. Pointing the microphone at the black athlete and expecting him (or her) to address “black” issues endorses a significant strand of social science research that reports blacks are expected to speak for “their race” as if the black opinion is monolithic.
The black opinion is not monolithic. But more importantly, any black athlete who wishes to speak out about oppression, police brutality, economic disparity and more ought to be lauded for using his or her platform to advocate for societal change.
Don’t argue the point with me. You’d be wrong.
Moving on, for those of you who insist that sports and politics ought not mix, I remind you that the International Olympic Committee tried for decades to foster this nonsense. Olympic athletes should come together merely for the satisfaction of athletic competition, the IOC reminded us loudly and often throughout the 20th century.
And all the while, the IOC deliberately placed the quadrennial Games in multiple cities and on multiple continents so that the message of Olympism could spread far and wide. The IOC also required athletes to wear uniforms with their home nations prominently displayed. And, it also allowed national anthems to be played during medal-award ceremonies.
Sport and politics shouldn’t mix? Come on.
Let’s set the IOC aside because the hypocrisy within that organization when it relates to politics and sport is legendary.
Instead, let’s return to you who want a great firewall between politics and sport. If you’re serious about that, then beyond requiring athletes to not talk about the real world,
- The national anthem must be eliminated before any and all sports events
- Other patriotic songs such as “God Bless America” can never again be played before or during a sports event
- The flag must be removed from uniforms (and from cars in any auto racing event)
- Tributes to military veterans must be eliminated
- No politician may appear at any sports event while he or she is in office
- Politicians must discontinue their bets with each other before championship events
- Championship teams may not visit the White House
- No advertiser may identify itself as an American corporation
I’ll stop there, but the list certainly doesn’t.
So, which is it going to be: Athletes talking and anthems playing? Or athletes silent and anthems muted?
Athletes advocating for change and veterans being lauded for their service? Or athletes quiet and veterans unseen?
Athletes demanding a better America and the flag prominent at sports events? Or athletes remaining in their lanes and flags remaining locked away?
Sports and politics shouldn’t mix? You’d better think hard about that before you go down that road.