Shut Up and Dribble: Hey, North American sports, your hypocrisy is showing

Despite calls to keep social justice out of sports, military and nationalist propaganda always seems welcome

Shut up and dribble is exposing fans’ hypocrisy. Breea Kobernick

You hear it on a quasi-daily basis at this point. Every time an athlete tries to use their platform to advocate for any social justice cause, they’re met with a barrage of abuse.

“Stick to sports,” “You’re just a jock, not a politician,” “I don’t want politics ruining my sports experience,” and a myriad of other combinations asking for the same thing—an apolitical sporting environment.

But that’s not the case. That’s never been the case. The very first installation of this series outlines how politics have had a hand in nearly every major sporting event. Its biggest stars, from Muhammad Ali to Lebron James, were almost always activists as well. Athlete activism isn’t going anywhere—in fact it’s more alive than ever. When you look at movements being supported league-wide as is the case with the National Basketball Association’s support of Black Lives Matter, it’s difficult to deny social justice movements and their influence on sports. However, there are still those who clamour for a sport devoid of any political agenda.

These are the same people that lost their shit when Mark Cuban—owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks—decided to stop playing the national anthem before home games. It took a whole 10 games for people to finally catch on what was happening. It just goes to show how performative this blind American exceptionalism is. 

American sports are so steeped in nationalist propaganda that the mere notion of not playing a national anthem before a game between two American teams on American soil is cause to be publicly chastised. God forbid we forget where this game is being played. 

International competitions are an entirely different story. World championships and the Olympics have national anthems present because you’re representing your country. But if you look at the European soccer scene, you won’t find any games that start with a mandatory national anthem—or even an optional one.

That’s because they’re not representing their country, but instead a city or a club. If Dallas had a recognized city anthem, then go nuts. I would love to hear Waylon Jennings’ Bob Wills is Still the King before every Mavericks game but until then, keep this blind and wildly unnecessary patriotism out of the sporting world.

The biggest culprit—hands down—is the National Football League. The entire NFL’s brand is centered around America, patriotism, and “good ol’ fashioned supporting the troops.” Up until 

the 2016 season, the United States Department of Defense poured more than $10 million into what was labeled “paid patriotism” across multiple leagues and sporting events. 

Another word for that? Propaganda.

The wildest part is that the military no longer pays to have a presence at games. The propaganda has worked so well that leagues like the NFL invite the military back rather than have them pay. You can't remove those elements without feeling like there’s something missing. Fly-bys, saluting the troops, the national anthem, and practically every other aspect of the sports entertainment experience has at least some pro-military undertones. 

It’s no less obvious here in Canada. There may be a smaller military budget, but the same practices are used. National Hockey League and Canadian Football League games all take time out of their programming to feature some form of nationalist or pro-military message. 

It’s not a coincidence that the same people clamouring for this kind of blatant propaganda are the same people spewing vitriolic messages at athletes who dare stand up for their people. If LeBron James wants to outline the systemic racism People of Colour are disproportionately exposed to, then the game is too political—it’s about the sport after all. 

However, they’re all up in arms when those same athletes don’t praise the very symbol of oppression that their people still live under today? Or don’t feel comfortable saluting a notoriously imperialist military? Then look in the mirror because you’re the hypocrite ruining sports. 

Sports are political. They’ve always been political. Stop complaining about it or find a new hobby.