Sports and politics have been clashing since before Colin Kaepernick or Donald Trump were even born. In the last 100 years, tonnes of athletes have voiced their political views. Multiple athletes have endorsed politicians, played golf with politicians – hell every year the winners of each the NHL, NFL, MBL and NBA all are invited to visit the White House.
I believe that sports and politics should continue to mix. But to support that argument, one needs to understand why they mix.
“Sports is really no longer an escape from the real world that it used to be. Sports is a mirror of our society,” CNN Sports Analyst Christine Brennan said. “I think because Trump is so controversial and because the things he’s saying and doing run counter to what many people believe … athletes are finding their voice in a way that is reminiscent of the 1960s.”
Athletes are always in the spotlight, think about it. JJ Watt raised millions of dollars for Hurricane Harvey through his social media campaign. Great, a positive outcome from an athlete’s fame. But now let us consider someone like Ezekial Elliot, Dallas Cowboys star player. Elliot has been charged with multiple accounts of domestic assault, ie beating his girlfriend repeatedly. Everyone is able to follow his case and any football fan knows that Elliot has not yet served even half of his suspension. An average man would not have this preferential treatment.
To quote Uncle Ben from Spiderman – “With great power comes great responsibility” and this can be true for athletes and their endorsement and involvement in politics.
Athletes have been given an incredible gift. Not only are they gifted with the ability to play a certain sport at a high calibre, earning them millions of dollars, but they also have been given the gift of being role models for people all over North America. Because athletes are on this pedestal and are these role models, their actions and conduct need to be a step above the average persons. People look to athletes for inspiration, people like Wayne Gretzky, Michael Jordan, Lionel Messi; people lead their lives based on the example these athletes set and people are inspired by them. Hence when JJ Watt started to pledge money to support hurricane Harvey victims, thousands of people followed his lead, eventually resulting in millions of dollars raised.
Same goes for Colin Kaepernick. He took it upon himself to stand up to the injustice regarding the treatment of people by the police in America. Kneeling before the American anthem, wearing clothes with certain slogans on them, even suffering the consequences of his actions resulting in losses of playing time and even this year, its argued that he has not been signed by a team because of the movement he started. Because his actions, a movement was started. Hundreds of NFL players have taken a knee during the anthem, with athletes going as far as saying that if they have to choose between kneeling and playing, that they will sit to make a statement.
What about people like Jesse Owens, or Tommie Smith and John Carlos or even Steph Curry, hell even Lavar Ball?
Jesse Owens, one of America’s fastest men, was one of first athletes to use his position in the public spotlight to push for change. Racing in 1936 Olympics in Berlin, just a couple years before the peak of Hitler’s reign, Owens was the star American athlete at the Olympics, winning four gold medals. Hitler, unimpressed with the lack of Aryan success in the events Owens dominated, left the stadium, refusing to watch a black man win his Olympics. Owens later remarked that though he did not receive any praise from the German leader, that back home he would not receive any praise from his own leader, the president.
Tommie Smith and John Carlos another example, not exactly house hold names here in Canada. But maybe their protest will ring a bell. Standing on the podium at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, the bronze and gold medal winner standing with a first in the air wearing a black glove to protest injustice. Both athletes were later stripped of their medals
Before this year, the clash between sports and politics has followed a similar trend. The government creates a policy or ideal, certain athletes and citizens alike disagree, athletes then say something about it, or make a form of protest to show that they will not stand for whatever there are deeming to be the injustice.
Now, in a world of social media and technology, things are much different. For the first time most likely ever; we have one of the most powerful leaders in the world tweeting at athletes and arguing with them like a school yard spat. In the last 11 months the interaction between athletes and world leaders, specifically the President of the United States, cough cough Trump, has multiplied tenfold. We have Steph Curry, basketball superstar, tweeting that his team won’t be visiting the White House after winning the NBA Championship, and within minutes of hitting send, Trump is replying with a tweet that could be summed up as, “Good, I didn’t want you to come anyways.”
Fast forward a couple months, Trump somehow still has a Twitter account and now the man is tweeting about how any NFL player that kneels during the American anthem should be sat and that the owners of the NFL teams shouldn’t be tolerating anything of this nature. Pure madness.
We live in a time where few people are comfortable taking a stand on politics, so we shouldn’t criticize people who are willing to stand up for what they believe in and take advantage of the voice that they have, a voice people will listen to.