To all the fans out there echoing the tired cliché of “athletes should just stick to sports,” I have one piece of advice for you: Pick up a book.
If you enter “Sports and Politics” into the Multnomah County Library search engine, 400+ results are found. Do another search on Powell’s website and you will also see a healthy number of books related to the subject. Sure, not all the results are directly related to sports and politics together, but the topic is ripe enough that it has been written about numerous times through the years.
Athletes cannot stick to just sports, because sports can’t even stick to just sports. History is laden with events in which sports and politics have inevitably crossed paths ever since the Romans built the Colosseum in 80 AD.
And speaking of the Colosseum, if you are against players having a political opinion, you might want to think about downsizing your arena as well. Or, do you think a city upgrading a stadium to have a bigger TV is purely for the fans?
The Colosseum was not just an arena for gladiator combats, religious sacrifices, and exotic animal shows; it was meant to display the power of Rome, just as AT&T Stadium is meant to display that everything is bigger in Texas.
Politics are usually how an arena gets built, so don’t think you can keep it out after it has been erected.
We ask athletes to regularly donate their spare time to charities and community causes. Many, though not all, do it with a genuine smile on their face and a sense of community growth. How hypocritical is it that fans choose to chastise these same athletes for voluntarily taking a knee for a genuine cause while reclining in their La-Z-Boys as the Star-Spangled Banner begins to play?
Athletes have often been at the forefront of social issues that many would rather passively shrug off and pretend never existed.
Perhaps, you might have heard of Jackie Robinson and a little story about him breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball, helping to light the path of the civil rights movement.
Maybe, you have heard of Muhammad Ali, who went to prison for refusing to enter a war he didn’t believe in.
Maybe, it’s time to read up on Billy Jean King, whose battle with Bobby Riggs helped raise awareness on the disparity between how much a woman earns to her male counterpart.
Read about Jesse Owens, who owned the 1936 Olympic Games, running in defiance against host country and Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany.
There is Pat Tillman, who left the NFL and enlisted in the army after the September 11 terrorist attacks, dying in the Afghan mountains from friendly fire. Tillman became a political tug-of-war figure for those for and against the Iraq and Afghanistan war.
And, more recently, there is the United States women’s soccer team, who have used their high-profile success to shine a light on not only women’s pay, but the conditions of the fields on which they play on.
You may not want sports and politics to be on speaking terms, but I’m afraid they’ve been having a torrid affair for some time now. But, while the two shouldn’t run off and get married, it doesn’t mean that it’s a bad relationship all the time.
There are times when sports and politics intersect for a global cause we all stand up for, when we find ourselves uniquely united on a single event. No incident was more unifying than 9-11 in 2001, and nothing was better at helping heal the nation than sports.
If you didn’t shed a tear, or get at least get chills, the first time God Bless America was sung at Yankee Stadium just days after the terrorist attacks, then you are an empty, hollow vessel. Sports can unify like nothing else; its power to draw millions of viewers, to have two opposing sides come together, both in teams and politics, is nothing short of a modern miracle. 9-11, however, was the last time we were universally one nation, standing as one for a common purpose.
Fast forward 15 years and we have lost the common ground on what it is to be a patriot and what it means to be American. We have come to moments like last weekend when many will find the reasons athletes are protesting an uncomfortable conversation and therefore unwanted on a Sunday afternoon. Instead of having a national conversation, unhappy fans voice their disappointment about “spoiled athletes” who are risking health and limb while you drown in Bud Lights and sit on a throne of chicken wings.
As we head into the fourth week of the NFL and into a possible second weekend of anthem protests, while our President keeps tweeting like an anxious teenager, pouring a tanker of gasoline onto the fire, we will see just how far the ratings will go down (they were up last weekend). How many will falsely tune out in faux anger about something they never cared about in the first place, whether it be the national anthem or inequality? For it is because of those individuals who scream (or tweet) widely to the heavens when an athlete kneels before the anthem but remain silent on the constant injustice of fellow Americans, that athletes have once again put sports into bed with politics.
If you are outraged by the actions of athletes for something they do before the game even begins, then by all means, boycott the NFL, burn your jerseys, and turn the game off. You have that right. Just be sure to check your fantasy points at some point to see what you’ve been missing. I’m sure you won’t boycott that. Right?