Let’s start with this if you have ever used the hashtag stick to sports seriously, this isn’t for you. If you believe our country is in a good place politically, this isn’t for you. If you believe that our president can be defended for calling people using their freedom of speech “sons of bitches” this isn’t for you. This is for those who care about sports and politics and understand the delicate balance they maintain in our country. So if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all, but this is real life. I realize I’ll piss some people off. I’m fine with that. I’m done sitting quietly, buckle up folks let’s talk about sports and politics in this country.
Our country is at its most volatile moment arguably since Antebellum. We are divided as a nation to the point at which neither side of the aisle can seem to agree on anything. We used to be able to agree that sports were fun to watch that they were a way for our country to connect outside of the boundaries of politics. That is no longer the case. Sports and Politics have been wed and whether you agree with the union or not it’s happening, stick to sports is no longer an option. How can a sports journalist stick to sports when they must report on athletes who use their platforms to express their political views? You can’t just ignore it you must report it. You must have analysis on it and you must step out of your comfort zone. Jon Gonzalez of The Ringer offers some interesting insight on the topic of sticking to sports. “The world is highly politicized. There’s no cover, no matter what industry you’re in. Specifically, with sports, athletes and journalists have massive platforms. It naturally follows that they’d use those platforms to express their opinions about issues that concern them.” When we live in the times we do how can one stick to sports? At every twist and turn the world is politicized and turned into agenda for one cause or another, ripe to tear people and friendships apart. The attitude Damon Kecman of Climb the Pocket holds toward politics in sports journalism is one of duty. “I feel like it’s my duty to speak my opinion on social and political issues. With the following that I have. Not many people in this world have a collective following or social media impact like sports journalists including myself do. If I can enlighten a few people a day, that’s a way to push change in this country.” It is the same mindset athletes who protest the national anthem hold that journalists have adopted.. So where did this all begin? Kaepernick? The Election? The answer is last night when just the right man said just the wrong words that would ignite the tinder box that has been building for months on end. Forcing Sports and Politics into a matrimony of commonly uncommon messages.
On Friday evening at a rally president Donald Trump told the NFL to “fire those sons of bitches” who kneel and protest the national anthem. Let’s be clear, this is an unacceptable statement. Here’s why, these players are not protesting the national anthem they are protesting what it stands for, our nation and the state it is currently in. These men and women live in the greatest country on earth and acknowledge that by using their freedom of speech to try to influence change. They believe, as many American’s do, that our country still has glaring problems. These athletes, most of them prominently African American, want to affect change and bring awareness to their plight, that African Americans are still widely discriminated in this country. These athletes love their country there is a misconception that they do not. It is quite the opposite, by using their right to protest these athletes are showing the utmost reverence to our country.
The greatest respect these athletes can show their country is to use their freedom of speech and there platform to try to institute change. The founding fathers would be proud they gave these people the freedom of speech to make change and start conversations and that is exactly what these athletes are doing. It is a shame our president doesn’t realize this. What the commander doesn’t recognize is that taking shots and starting a war with pro athletes is one he will lose. Because I don’t know if you have noticed but the world has gotten notably more anti Trump within the last 6 months. Americans without a strong stance on the president are often swayed by those they see as celebrity and for a solid slice of the country those celebrity are athletes. Donald Trump has picked a feud with the wrong group of people, players and hard-core NFL fans.
What Donald doesn’t realize is that picking fights with multibillion dollar organization like the NFL and NBA is not going end well for him. While Trumps most hard-core supporters will never ditch him those who swung him into office just because he was “different” are easily swayed and a sizeable portion of them are middle Americans who watch the NFL and for the most part support its players. If Trump continues his rhetoric on pro sports it could get to the point people have to choose between their support of Trump and the NFL. The question will quickly become which entity has more pull?
While the NFL released a statement on the president’s comments it wasn’t a strong one. While the commissioner and the league tried to go into damage control it may have caused more harm than good for the NFL. The statement was luke warm and didn’t even mention the President or his name. Referring to the incidents message instead calling the presidents message “divisive comments” Goodell could have made a stronger statement but what he did do was for the first time openly support player protests. This is a massive step forward for the NFL seeing as they had not openly and brazenly supported player protests nearly as much up to this point. It is extremely important for the league to stand with its players and it did. Owners released statements all day Saturday voicing their support for player protests. When it comes down to it the NFL is all about money so when the big boys at the top with the money get behind their players it says a lot. The outpouring of support from players who have not protested up to this point including Richard Sherman, Eric Ebron, and Martellus Bennett has been overwhelming. Platforms like twitter have given athletes a place to voice their support of each other. In a world so deeply divided by politics it is frankly refreshing to see athletes come together to commit there voices to one common goal and rally around one thing. It is something that politicians in this country simply cannot seem to do yet grown men with little to no political experience are helping to drive the discussion of politics in this country.
So where does this leave us? In a world so deeply divided by politics is there a solution? Unfortunately, the answer seems to be no when a president rescinds invites to the white house publicly punishing athletes that stand up for themselves it is hard to start a dialog. Despite this athletes have started this dialog. More surprisingly the president may have unintentionally started it. When you call a group of people “sons of bitches” and then threaten their lively hood most of the time the “sons of bitches” are going to show up in full throat hammering there message into the public eye even more heavily than before. In a weird way Trump may have given these athletes there largest platform yet. A chance to take shots at the president of the United States.
If your tired of stick to sports maybe it’s time to find a new hobby, may I suggest cooking, because from this moment forward for at least the next four years of American history Sports and Politics will be deeply intertwined by the divisive rhetoric of a president who has stepped into a whole new world of criticism. That dominated by day time radio hosts, ESPN analysts, pre-game panels, play by play guys and lowly sports writers just trying to make sense of this crazy world, like me.
A note about sports and politics
In our Pro Sports Fandom group message, we had a discussion on what each of us would do for the anthem if we had a chance. There is a poll I will tweet out with this post that gives the options if you would like to vote you can go to @Eric18utah on twitter and find the poll. We then had a conversation about what we would do and why we would do it. Guess what, were all still on speaking terms. None of us are rioting in the streets and we all have a more educated view of the world now stemming from all sides of the aisle. One of our writers @notjas0nheyward on twitter said “For me the flag represents freedom that’s why I would stand with my hand over my heart. We live in the best country in the world America” While others from our group would kneel to draw awareness to those oppressed. Jake Riegel had this to say “I’d kneel. I feel that because I live in a country which oppresses people like me and people who are different from me, standing for a national anthem that doesn’t represent all people’s values would be wrong. I hate that I live in a country where people like me are not seen as equal” While I personally would feel uncomfortable kneeling for the anthem because I feel as if I cannot speak for the oppressed I would link arms with team mates because I feel there are problems in this country but the only way to fix them is to be united. There are Trump Supporters and those who vehemently disagree with our president’s values but we were able to have a conversation. That shows a lot, it should show a lot for all of us. Though we may disagree on a lot of things as a country we can all agree that we are entitled to each other’s opinions and that is the only way to start conversations in our country. Stick to sports is over, whether you want to have an adult conversation or bicker like a child on social media is really up to you.