“Shut Up and Dribble”: You Can’t Keep Politics Out of Sports
Sports and Politics Have Been and Will Continue to Be Intertwined
People always want to see things through a political lens. If there’s even a hint of public interest, someone will find a way to link it to a larger theme. This applies to both entertainment and show business. Ever since we started paying attention to prominent figures, they have used their influence to shed light onto issues that they feel need attention.
That being said, during the last few years there has been backlash from certain groups, advocating that celebrities keep their opinions to themselves and athletes just stick to being jocks. This issue flared up again when LeBron James and Kevin Durant, two of the greatest basketball players of their generation, were told to “Shut up and dribble” by Fox News’ Laura Ingraham after they criticized Donald Trump’s leadership skills.
This is nothing new. Colin Kaepernick still can’t find a quarterback job on any National Football League team after he faced criticism for kneeling during the national anthem. The growing number of athletes of colour who took part in kneeling led to the President of the United States—the supposed leader of the Free World—to call for them to be fired.
This is emblematic of a much larger issue. Athletes are no longer seen as people who have their own thoughts and are permitted of expressing their opinions.
In the modern day sports market, they are expected to only do one thing: be a jock. They’re allowed to have big personalities and entertain people, so long as it doesn’t rub anyone the wrong way or speak on issues that are deemed taboo for the sporting world.
Richard Sherman, former cornerback of the NFL’ Seattle Seahawks, had an explosive and emphatic interview following a playoff win in which he was a key part. He was later branded a “thug” by members of the sports media, including ESPN’s Skip Bayless, despite having a 4.2 grade point average in high school and graduating from Stanford University. Donald Trump called all the players who knelt during the anthem “sons of bitches”.
The reality is, athletes have been taking political stances for decades and their portrayal as villains is by no means a new trend.
In the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, American 200-meter gold and bronze medalists Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised one hand with a black glove while the national anthem played. While they were attacked by nearly every mainstream sports media outlet, their image is now one of the most iconic political statements in sporting history.
Muhammad Ali, the greatest boxer of all time, was banned from his sport, turned into a pariah, and missed out on the prime of his career for refusing conscription for what he deemed to be an unjust war. He was immediately vilified by both the press and politicians, yet he inspired many as one of the first prominent athletes to double as a social activist.
At the end of the day, sports have a long history of being connected to social movements. If sports are part of our culture, we can’t vilify the most prominent members of said culture when they shed light on issues they feel strongly about.
So, if what you want is just bland old sports, without addressing the world that these athletes live in, then go play a sports video game.You can’t keep politics out of sports, you’re just going to have to get used to it.
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