No one is saying athletes should not have social consciences or forums to express their political views. It is just that the game is not such a forum, not if they expect people to attend or tune in.

The modern athlete complains when that point is made. How precious. With their wealth and status, a million opportunities for social activism are open to athletes that are not open to ordinary people, who well know they have no right to demand that their private employers put up with the workplace’s conversion into a soapbox.

Off the field, there is a great deal that athletes can do to advance the causes they care about. LeBron James, to take one of many examples, has invested heavily in the education of at-risk children. He is to be applauded for giving back, for having skin in the game rather than just virtue signaling. And while I’d rather get a root canal than listen to LeBron bloviate about police reform, many people do care what he thinks, and his iconic station yields limitless media opportunities to tell them. He has earned that by combining incomparable talent with a superhuman work ethic. Still, if the price of admission to see him play is to endure his pregame antics, then I’d rather not. He has chosen, moreover, to make himself a politically polarizing figure, and there’s a deep popularity cost for that, too — which is not to be dismissed when you’re in pro sports, a popularity business.