Sports Going Political Can’t Have it Both Ways

Recently it has become common for professional athletes to “use their platforms” to “speak out” on political issues, particularly issues that explore the intersection of race and law enforcement in America. Last week, this took the form of NBA, NHL, and MLB teams refusing to take the field to play games for a couple of days while NFL teams refused to practice, but as athletes, coaches, teams, and sports media become more political, it also becoming increasingly clear tat those who are in favor of this are trying to have it both ways. They want all of the benefits of being an activist with none of the consequences.

Sports, as a business, is entertainment. If sports leagues and sports media want to re-brand themselves as CNN or MSNBC with the occasional sportsball highlight then the consumer is going to respond, whether that’s by watching something else, buying fewer tickets, or by actually responding to actions taken and ideas put forth.

Not playing a basketball game or practicing for an upcoming football season to protest racism or police brutality is a wild non-sequitur. The entire point of boycotting something is to point out the bad in that thing. The game of basketball has nothing to do with the cause.

If the entire exercise was “to raise awareness” the question must be asked “okay, great you, a multi-millionaire, took a couple of days off of work ‘to raise awareness.’ Now what?” because right now it looks like either pretentious virtue signaling or a directionless movement that is more interested in sloganeering and tweeting than in doing the hard work of putting together political majorities to enact some sort of legislation.

The difference between an protester and a rabble rouser is that a protester should be able to define what victory looks like. Right now, athletes are mostly telling others to “educate yourself” about some ill-defined generality.

If you want people to take your political arguments seriously, you need to make serious political arguments. We don’t take non-sequiturs and ad hominems (more on that later) seriously when coming from politicians and professional political commentators and we are under no obligation to do so when coming from those in the sports world.

Those involved in these protests, such as they are, are also not great at taking criticism. They want to be seen as political activists who use their platform to bring attention to issues of racial justice, but whenever someone challenges them, they react like children.

Consider former Chicago Bears hall of fame linebacker Brian Urlacher’s Instagram comments on the protests:

Brett Favre played the MNF game the day his dad died, threw 4 TDs in the first half, and was a legend for playing in the face of adversity.

NBA players boycott the playoffs because a dude reaching for a knife, wanted on a felony sexual assault warrant, was shot by police

Now, a reasonable person can look at Urlacher’s post and say that we still don’t know what exact role the knife played in the Jacob Blake case or that the existence of a warrant is not sufficient to shoot Blake in the back seven times, but a reasonable person will also say it shows that the original narrative that he was just a upstanding bystander who was breaking up a fight was false. If Brian Urlacher doesn’t have all the facts, neither did/do those who boycotted games.

But that did not stop the Bears from denouncing him, “The social media posts in no way reflect the values or opinions of the Chicago Bears organization.” Former teammate Matt Forte tweeted:

If athletes want to be more political, then other people are allowed to treat them as political pundits and point out the flaws in their arguments. If you want to engage in the public exchange of ideas, you can not act shocked and demand all of society denounce someone, when they disagree with you. The biggest problem with the surge in popularity of the label “anti-racist” is the opposite of anti-racist in the most literal sense, is racist, but in the real world disagreeing with LeBron James or Matt Forte or Robin DiAngelo does not make you a racist and people in a free country are under no obligation to agree with your protest movement.

If you want more political athletes, you can not complain when someone of another political persuasion uses their platform.

These athletes, and coaches need to know the only reason they have “a platform” is because they are famous for something that is not political and. People are under no obligation to take the political opinions of a football coach or basketball player seriously anymore than they are a Hollywood actor.

Exhibit A is Pete Carroll, head coach of the author’s beloved Seattle Seahawks, who recently called upon fellow NFL coaches to talk about social justice-related issues. Carroll is a great coach, the best the Seahawks have ever had, but he is not one to lecture others on having appropriate political beliefs, given his willingness to cozy up to 9/11 truthers.

Of course, this extends to LeBron James and the NBA as well, who are the first to denounce injustice right up until the Chinese Communist Party threatens their bottom line. The NBA is the sports equivalent to Leonardo DiCaprio flying around the world on his private jet while lecturing everyone about the dangers of climate change.

The NBA, NFL, NHL, and MLB all have hundreds of players and millions more fans and to assume they all agree on politics is insane. If famous athletes want to be activists they can, but they can not have it both ways. If you want to be a political pundit then people will respond to you the same way they would respond to any other pundit and calling anyone who dissents a hater is not only childish, but also bad for sports.




Writing about politics and other interesting things. Contributing Writer to NewsBusters. Member of YAF’s National Journalism Center’s Spring 2019 class.

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Alex Christy

Alex Christy

Writing about politics and other interesting things. Contributing Writer to NewsBusters. Member of YAF’s National Journalism Center’s Spring 2019 class.

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