There’s no doubt that the political climate of our nation is trickling into all aspects of society, including professional sports.
We saw it most recently at Fenway Park, when spectators unrolled a banner onto the Green Monster reading, “Racism is as American as baseball.” We’ve seen it in the NFL, in a motion started by Colin Kaepernick when players kneel during the national anthem in protest of racism and police brutality.
In both of these cases, media storms emerged. Causing a divide between sports fans and non-sports fans alike. However these kind of issues are not simply two-sided; there is more to be discussed than right or wrong.
Though it is the case in the aforementioned examples, the problems we see are not limited to race, gender, sexuality, social class, economy, or religion. Based issues also come to mind. Across the board, controversies such as these have erupted that spark the question. Do politics have a place in sports?
There has never been a time when sports were entirely separate from politics, and there never will be. From the outside looking in, it would be easy to say, “it’s just a game.” But the reality is, it can’t always be just a game. These players are people. These coaches are people. These fans are people. It’s human life that we’re dealing with here.
When a professional athlete signs a contract, they are signing up for more than what is written on paper. They become a public figure, the face of a franchise. With this role, they can go two ways: use their status to promote a platform (whether it’s social or political), or avoid controversy and fall silent.
Thanks to the media, there is an abundance of opportunities for athletes to express their views separate from the athletic stage. In turn, fans and other observers can respond in a similar manner. The gray area results when these issues crossover onto the playing field.
As far as I’m concerned, there are issues that should be saved for the press conference. The actual playing field is no place for political issues (read: Expression of Mere Approval or Disapproval of our President). However, in regards to the type of controversies we have seen as of late, many issues transcend the merely political and become human rights issues. They are neither “right” nor “left” and as I mentioned before, this is human life that we’re dealing with.
It is impossible to define the “right” or “wrong” way to approach political issues. But what we as sports fans have to acknowledge is that we are often not affected by the consequences of these issues, and thus we cannot fully understand. What the athletes are trying to do by bringing politics into the playing field is help us understand.
If you think that politics have no place in sports, I suggest you think a little bit harder about the role that athletes play in our society. Think about how athletes like Jackie Robinson and Jesse Owens changed the conversation about racism. Or how the current U.S. Women’s National Soccer team is continually battling gender inequality. Sometimes it takes a LeBron James, Steph Curry, or a David Ortiz to get people to listen.
No sports fan wants to hear this, but it’s important to understand that there are problems currently facing this country that are more important than a game and based on my observations, most players already knew that. The sports world is a projection of our country and society as a whole, whether we realize it or not.