Politics In Sports Is Nothing New

Eric Urbanowicz
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The recent overturning of Roe V. Wade sent shockwaves throughout the United States. Various athletes, active and retired, on both sides made their opinions known by sounding off on social media. All the while, every local and National news company spent hours covering the proceedings and projecting the impact it may have on the country.

It also reawakened a group of people that didn’t disappear completely but has mostly remained dormant for the most part. That group being the “Keep Politics Out Of Sports” crowd.

Since making their voices heard in 2016 following then San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the National Anthem, this loud, seemingly minority has stood its ground. It didn’t matter if it was supporting Black Lives Matter, legislation for red flag laws, the Ukraine, choosing not to visit the White House after a championship or anything else: if they didn’t support it, they went to their go to phrase.

This was further elevated in 2018 when Fox News pundit Laura Ingraham told then Cleveland Cavaliers’ star LeBron James to “shut up and dribble.” The comment came in response to James’ criticisms of then President Donald Trump. As a result, not only did this crowd get louder, but now they were armed with another phrase.

Through all of the loudness, controversy and back-and-forth on social media, there are a few things that seem to get lost in the shuffle.

The first thing is that these events do impact professional athletes, most of the time directly. The fact is, even though they make a lot of money off of their talents and hard work alone, they still face the issues they’re protesting against. As an employer, both their respective teams and leagues will usually stand by them.

In the year 2022, there are still players in the NBA and NFL that face racial profiling. There are also women in the WNBA and Women’s Football Alliance who now are heavily affected because of the recent Supreme Court ruling. Their respective leagues know their players and employees and for the most part would stand by them. They know if it impacts even one member, it truly would impact all of them.

Something else that seems to get lost is the very thing these folks often clamor for: athletes to play the part of a role model.

For decades, people have assumed that athletes were to play the part of a role model, when in reality, they had their own vices like everyone else. It wasn’t until 1993 when NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley challenged this notion with the famous, “I’m No Role Model” Nike commercial that people started to try and force athletes into that role.

Years later, athletes are now standing up for what they believe in and are ironically rebuked, with the demand they still act as role model. The thing is, this creates a bit of a hypocrisy.

A role model by definition is a person looked to by others as an example to be imitated. These athletes are standing up for what they feel is right, whether it’s by social media postings or participation in demonstrations and peaceful protests. Standing up for what’s right is something that should be looked up to no matter race, skin color, religion or anything else. Instead, they receive criticism and condemnation because they don’t agree, yet still have the mindset of “this person needs to be a role model.”

It also doesn’t help that the relationship between sports and politics/social issues have a long history: why is it all of a sudden a problem now?

It wasn’t a problem when former Toronto Blue Jays’ first baseman Carlos Delgado sat during “God Bless America” to protest the Iraq War, it wasn’t a problem when more than 30 Missouri football players boycotted games and practices until university President Tim Wolfe resigned for his handling of racial issues, there wasn’t major blowback when Billie Jean King protested for higher pay for women in tennis…the list goes on.

It could be because social media didn’t exist or wasn’t as prominent, but given that television and newspaper had been evolving at that point, you’d think it would see more opinions or letters sent in, but not really. So why now?

Probably the most important thing that does get lost is that athletes are human, like anyone else. Athletes may have some influence and they may seem larger than life, but realistically, they’re as equal as an average Joe on the street.

The only differences between us and the athletes are they have more money and their lives are under more of a microscope. We sometimes like to think they’re in an upper echelon because they seemingly can get lower punishments than us, but that’s just simply not the case. They have the same laws as we do.

The fact is, these protests and social media postings aren’t being done to say they don’t like the United States, or that they don’t care about anything until something is done. It’s to at least bring the conversation of their message to the table. These are important issues and ones that should be at least researched through reputable sites and sources.

These aren’t just issues that have popped up the last decade, these are issues that have lingered and at least deserve to be talked about. Not just in a quick discussion, but really in conversation, seeing both sides, no name calling or damning the other side. Save the debate for those in charge, let’s just listen to what they have to say and what they mean, not what some talking head on a news network says.

Eric Urbanowicz

Connecticut

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