Politics belong in sports

Student writer Zach Short asserts that politics have always been, and always should be, part of sports.

Our athletes are some of our greatest heroes. I can still remember watching every game of the World Series both years that the Royals made it, in tatters after their 2014 loss and ecstatic with their 2015 win.

In eighth grade I got my hair cut to look like Eric Hosmer’s unique do that came out from under his hat and helmet during the most exciting moments — it did not look like I had hoped it would.

Sports, in addition to meaning so much to us individually, has a unique ability to bring people together.

It’s one of the only topics that we can argue with one another about incessantly and still enjoy together despite all our differences. However, there has recently been an apparent increase in the political involvement of professional athletes.

The change hasn’t been without scrutiny, as there are certainly plenty of people who think the world of sports would be better if athletes focused solely on their craft and not on the world around them. One of the most shocking assertions is that sports weren’t always like this, and that they used to be an escape from politics.

Unfortunately for those who have bought into it, this belief is utterly preposterous and founded on nothing more than some perverted and ignorant view of the world.

Politics have been a part of sports for as long as sports have been played, but now the NBA’s hassle with China has brought the issue up yet again and we’ve been left to figure out if the NBA should choose their money or their morals.

Regardless, sports and politics have been intertwined since the days of Spartacus’s revolt, but it was in the 20th century and the birth of modern sports that some of the most politicized performances were seen.

Jesse Owens, a black Olympian, went to Berlin in 1936 and won four gold medals despite the Aryan pseudoscience being pushed — a spectacular feat.

He wasn’t invited to shake hands at the White House, and he worked menial jobs for petty cash for years afterward. Jackie Robinson brought color to the sport of baseball just over 10 years after Owens ran in Berlin, igniting the long and painful, but eventually successful, desegregation of professional sports.

Muhammad Ali refused to fight in a war in which he didn’t believe and lost years of his boxing prime to the consequential suspension in doing so. In 1980, the U.S. team went stick-to-stick with the U.S.S.R. team in a hockey match.

The American team went on to beat Russia at a game on ice, one that Russia should have had a clear advantage in playing. Politics were always present in sports, especially during the tumultuous 20th century, so why are people seeking a separation of sport and state?

Perhaps the problem is that there was a brief moratorium on political activism in sports. As someone who grew up entirely in the 21st century, I can say that athletes expressing opinions has been something I have only noticed with my own eyes in recent years.

Maybe I was just a little ignorant, but I’ve watched sports my entire life and I can’t personally remember anything politically controversial coming in sports until I was in eighth grade, when Colin Kaepernick kneeled for the first time. Before that, every instance of politics and sports intermingling had been treated as ancient history.

When Kaepernick didn’t stand for the anthem, though, there was an absolute uproar. I don’t know what everyone else experienced, but I grew up in a rural area. If you supported the protest there, you were in the severe minority, and you certainly didn’t share that belief. It was the first time in a long time that an athlete had taken a controversial stance and was the catalyst for a new age of involvement in sports.

In the years following, LeBron James and Kevin Durant made headlines with their criticisms of the president, hardly any championship team seems to visit the White House, and the women’s soccer team held nothing back in their verbal war with the president.

Through it all, there has been a ceaseless cry for some idealistic return to normalcy and for athletes to simply play their respective sports and shut their mouths. But is there anyone better to bring up the issues that matter most? Athletes come from all different socioeconomic backgrounds and from all over the world to participate in a medium that gets through to, guess whom, all different socioeconomic backgrounds all over the world.

They have an incredible platform that rivals that of anyone else in any form of entertainment. If Patrick Mahomes or James Harden went on television tomorrow and voiced concern for the Kurds, would there not be a massive increase in how many people were on Google searching for information on what is happening there? Maybe instead of expecting our athletes to be silent, we should expect them to say something when it becomes necessary and should applaud them for promoting risky topics in front of an incredibly diverse worldwide audience.

Post Author: Zach Short