Since the rise of professional athletics in the early 20th century, sports have been an impetus for sociopolitical change.
Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Arthur Ashe, Billie Jean King and Colin Kaepernick are just a few athletes who have used their athletic abilities to further more than their own careers. They brought progress within their respective sports, and the rest of civilized society eventually followed suit — even if change was not always quick. But there is still more work to be done.
With the growing popularity of social media, professional athletes today have a convenient outlet to make their voices heard. Fans can reply to athletes’ posts, thereby starting constructive (or more often, not) conversations and bringing overlooked issues to the fore of public thought.
However, some would seek to silence this discourse with a single dismissive retort: “Stick to sports.”
The pushback is not only directed at the athletes, themselves, but also toward sports writers and television personalities who decide to comment on political issues relevant to the sporting community.
To me, this is quite telling. What I really hear from these critics is a lack of open-mindedness. Anyone has the opportunity to tune out what they don’t want to hear. On Twitter, you can unfollow an account. On a television set, you can change the channel. Why must it be necessary to completely silence others’ right to express their views when it’s so much easier to simply turn the other way?
It’s painfully obvious that much of the professional sporting world doesn’t agree with President Donald Trump’s political beliefs. A lack of understanding has caused the president to lash out at prominent figures over minor, or falsely envisioned, slights.
Superstars LeBron James, Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant all came to Stephen Curry’s defense after a recent spat with the president, in which Curry said he and his teammates, fresh off winning an NBA title, might refrain from a traditional White House visit. Trump, in a fit of pique, suddenly withdrew the invitation, saying Curry’s team, the Golden State Warriors, could no longer make the trip even if they wanted to.
Oh, and it wasn’t over. Trump continued his crusade in 22 tweets, ranting against NFL players who’ve taken to protesting injustice by kneeling during the national anthem. The president said players who do not stand for the anthem deserve to be fired, imploring football “fans” to boycott the “unpatriotic” league. And for the most part, the players don’t care.
Trump’s crackdown backfired spectacularly. Not only did the kneeling protests spread to more players, coaches and teams, but the entire episode exploded across the media, earning the cause even greater publicity. The president miscalculated. He never understood the purpose of the protests to begin with, and, further, he didn’t really care to find out. Trump, like most critics of the protests, had already decided for himself the meaning of the movement.
The whole point of “taking a knee” is to bring awareness to our country’s racial inequality, something many critics — including the president — have entirely ignored, instead painting the stunt as an unpatriotic diss. If these critics cared half as much about the rights of minorities as they do about their narrow view of patriotism, perhaps something could really be done about disparities in police treatment.
If protests are wrong, if taking a knee is incorrect, what is the right way to publicize these pressing issues? No matter what the president believes, these athletes show great respect for the flag, and what it truly stands for, by kneeling before it. They just want to see our country live up to its true ideals of liberty, equality and unity.
Trump has weighed in on many more sports-related issues, and the fight over kneeling at games barely scratches the surface. Most recently, he battled with an ESPN personality who rightfully called him a “white supremacist” on her own personal Twitter account. How is it productive to attack a private citizen in this way — especially one making use of a personal account on her own time?
The Trump administration continues to jump from one failure to the next. With such a low success rate, the president should instead be focusing on governmental matters first and foremost. No wonder Republicans still haven’t repealed the Affordable Care Act — the president would rather start Twitter fights than do the job he was elected to perform.
Perhaps Trump should take his own advice:
I can’t help but wonder if the president is venting steam and trying to live vicariously through his hatred, since he royally screwed up two previous situations regarding professional football leagues.
Similar to how we will look back at Trump’s presidency, his time as a United States Football League owner was an utter disaster. The league was created as an alternative to the more established NFL. After taking over the New Jersey Generals in 1984, Trump single-handedly torpedoed the league’s improving credibility after strongly urging it to compete head-to-head with the NFL in a fall schedule. Sure, the USFL won the anti-trust suit, but the league was only awarded $3.76. I’m not making that amount up. The check still hasn’t been cashed. The league folded after losing more than $163 million ($223 million in 2017 USD).
After his failure in the USFL, Trump encountered another opportunity to own a professional football team. He was offered a chance to buy the New England Patriots in 1988. The team’s debt of $104 million was apparently too much for the self-proclaimed “king of debt” to handle, so Trump passed on the offer. Big mistake. Twenty-nine years and five Super Bowl championships later, Forbes estimates the team is now worth $3.7 billion, only trailing the Dallas Cowboys as the most valuable team in the NFL.
Even Trump’s “good friend,” Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, has said the president’s latest comments were “divisive” and he “certainly” disagrees with them. Maybe all this is a sign that football just isn’t Trump’s thing.
Perhaps Trump isn’t simply out for retribution, though. He could be trying to distract us from something more important, such as his ongoing Russia investigation, led by an independent counsel that is aggressively pursuing new leads. Maybe Trump is trying to distract the nation from his dangerous verbal battles with a nuclear-armed North Korean regime. Or maybe he wants to divert attention away from the failure of yet another Republican push to repeal Obamacare.
But that’s probably giving the president far too much credit. He’s media-savvy, for sure, but he’s also incredibly impetuous. At times, there’s just no explaining his erratic tendencies.
Stick to politics, Mr. President. You’re not good at either sports or politics, but you might as well focus on not running this country into the ground. ■