I’m not a big fan of politics seeping into sports or pop culture, especially when I want to just watch a hockey game, read a book, listen to music, or watch a movie. There’s a bit of irony to that statement, since Tom Clancy discussed policy in his various Jack Ryan books and Sicario is an excellent commentary on the drug war, but books and movies tend to be escapes for most people, who want to be entertained and escape from life’s toils and troubles. The fact is politics have always ended up crossing paths with sports and pop culture, whether we like it or not.
The obvious example is the Olympic Games. The ancient Olympics were put together by city-states, as a way to not only celebrate Zeus, but to also show which group was better. Adolf Hitler was hoping the 1936 Olympics would show the superiority of the Aryans, only to be humbled by Jesse Owens in track (even if Nazi Germany took home the most medals for the Games). Let’s also not forget Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their fists during the 1968 Olympics. Peter O’Connor grabbed an Irish standard and waved it during the 1906 Games, instead of the Union Jack. The idea of the Olympics as a “national pride” event, with governmental involvement, is why Olympic athletes probably feel like they have free reign to make whatever statement they want.
But let’s also not forget the fact other athletes have taken a stand of some kind during their careers. Jake Tapper pointed out on Sunday how Jackie Robinson felt about the National Anthem.
I'm reminded that veteran/American icon Jackie Robinson concluded the preface to his autobiography this way: pic.twitter.com/xfqba07NyC
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) September 24, 2017
Muhammad Ali also missed out on boxing for three years after he refused to join the Army in the 1960’s to fight in Vietnam. Curt Schilling promoted George W. Bush after the 2004 World Series. Jim Brown has been involved in politics dating back to his own NFL career. Carlos Delgado refused to stand for “God Bless America,” during part of his baseball career because he didn’t agree with the Iraq War. LeBron James and others have worn political shirts before basketball games. Marshawn Lynch hasn’t stood for the National Anthem in almost a dozen years, and it should be pointed out no one is saying why. It’s a fine line between athlete and activist, and a lot of people are choosing to use their platform to raise awareness about one cause or another.
There’s nothing wrong with this (hi First Amendment!), although I’d prefer athletes focus on sports during the game. Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant has similar stance, and would prefer to being involved in the community, not make political comments. He got criticized by Jemele Hill (the same one who called President Donald Trump a white supremacist), for not being involved in National Anthem protests. Bryant’s response is pretty interesting.
“I’m not criticizing nobody,” He told reporters last month. “[Athletes are] free to do whatever they want. Hell no, I’m not doing none of that. Their beliefs are their beliefs, and I’m not saying that it’s wrong – because they’re feeling a certain way…I like being positive I’m not saying what they’re doing is wrong, I just have my ways of going about things.
“We want positive surroundings,” Bryant pointed out. “Like I said, I’m the first to say – my childhood was bad, it was poor, but I don’t wear it on my shoulders. I don’t. I try my best to become a better person from it and try to do the exact opposite. That’s what I try to show people, that’s what I try to show these young kids.”
I have a tone of respect for Bryant for this stance, and that’s not taking away from what other athletes do with their individual foundations. It’s deciding to be an athlete on the field, and a citizen off of it. It would be kind of be nice if others would follow this course of action.
There’s another question no one has really asked: why is The National Anthem played before sports games? Before someone starts castigating me for asking this question, I have no problem singing the Anthem or God Bless America, and will do it even when I’m watching a game on TV or listening to it online. I like showing respect to my country. But former Dallas Stars broadcaster Ralph Strangis was willing to ask that question in a 2015 piece in The Dallas Morning News. His conclusions are pretty interesting:
It was a few lines, scratched out by a lawyer and set to a drinking song that banged around at parades and naval occasions for 100 years before a CEO needed an anthem.
The CEO: Woodrow Wilson. His product: the Espionage Act…
It needs to be played — in front of large crowds. Sporting events. It starts rather organically during World War I at a World Series game. It has been played before every sporting match, pretty much at every level, ever since…
[Wilson[ gets the Espionage Act through after much debate. A sticking point is a provision on speaking out against the war effort. Seems that there was a lot of that back during World War I. Here’s what President Wilson said: “Authority to exercise censorship over the press is absolutely necessary to public safety.”
The Senate passed the Espionage Act. The censorship provision was removed, but by a 39-38 vote.
We play “The Star-Spangled Banner” at sporting events because we always have.
This is probably why athletes choose to use sporting events to make political comments, because the Anthem gets played, and how popular their sports are (falling ratings notwithstanding). I like the Anthem playing before sporting events, but I’m also okay with athlete protests, even if I find them disrespectful. But this is what happens when politics and sports mix, and it’s always been that way.