The argument “just stick to sports” is no longer credible. It just doesn’t cut it. Athletes are citizens, but some of the recent rhetoric has suggested otherwise.
According to the POTUS, an athlete’s only purpose is to entertain.
Even Fox Sports host and NFL Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw found the remarks out of touch and verging on un-American.
“If our country stands for anything, folks, it’s freedom. People died for that freedom,” Bradshaw said. “I’m not sure if our president understands those rights. That every American has the right to speak out, also to protest.”
But the main takeaway from this weekend’s Twitter storm is that the president continues to manifest his apparent issues with people of color.
Let’s examine the most-berated professional leagues.
The NFL received the brash blows first, but it didn’t take long for the NBA to be reprimanded as well.
According to Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport’s annual “Racial and Gender Report Card,” 69.7 percent of all NFL players identify as African Americans. Black representation in the NBA tops off at 74.4 percent. It is no coincidence that more than half of the athletes in both leagues are minorities.
It also isn’t serendipitous that the two major sports left out of this quarrel — MLB and NHL — have the least amounts of black Americans on their rosters. While MLB’s recent drafts and youth programing have been encouraging, its percentage of black players doesn’t eclipse 10 percent. The NHL’s numbers, however, are so discouraging that the league wasn’t even graded by the institute.
And that begs the question — can only white athletes be regarded as citizens, assuming their rights as Americans?
In the cases of Colin Kaepernick and Stephen Curry, both of whom were criticized as ungrateful and unpatriotic, their caucasian counterparts acted analogously.
Tom Brady skipped the Patriot’s 2017 White House visit and Tim Tebow — back when he played professionally — kneeled during every national anthem in support of his pro-life politics. Aspiring football players followed suit, miming his body language and coining it “Tebowing.”
Like the former Heisman winner, Kaepernick knelt in protest of what he believes is immoral.
But to no avail, Tebow and Brady got away without the swarm of bellicose discourse. Their mirroring actions were met differently in comparison to both the unsigned quarterback and current NBA champion.
It’s apparent Trump’s remarks have unified players of both the NFL and NBA, but what is even more evident are issues of race relations across not only the leagues, but also among their aficionados.
Earlier this week, it was announced that all five Boston sports franchises would be tackling racism head on, launching their new campaign, “Take the Lead.” The program will begin at Fenway Park at the end of the month, featuring a PSA with Boston athletes calling on Red Sox Nation and the like to “stand against racism.”
In this situation, Boston athletes won’t be just sticking to sports. They will be serving their communities and ameliorating looming tensions.
ESPN veteran Rachel Nichols doesn’t buy this mantra echoed by some of the network’s critics. On her daily program “The Jump,” she debunked the argument while addressing its hypocrisy.
“It can’t be socially acceptable for an athlete to give out food at a hurricane shelter but not acceptable for him or her to address a politician trying to defund school lunch programs,” Nichols said. “No one on the outside gets to decide for [them] what kind of human suffering is okay to care about and what kind isn’t.”
Nichols’ former colleague Tom Farrey pointed out a cognitive dissonance expressed by those claiming we should “stick to sports.”
“[The] upside of Trump mixing politics and sports is his people can stop complaining about the mixing of politics and sports,” Farrey tweeted.
This “mixing” of these two impugned solutes, at this point, is inevitable. But maybe it’s their intersection that will lead to more consequential change rather than repressive and restraining banter.
“Everybody Talks” is a radio show on WRUR’s the Sting that highlights women’s involvement in sports and the social issues that surround athletics. You can listen to it every Friday from 1–2 p.m. on thesting.wrur.org.