The following article is the words and thoughts of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Denver Stiffs, SB Nation or Vox Media.
“Stick to sports.” It is a statement today that can be found across every social media platform. It is one that is generally directed towards athletes, broadcasters and journalists alike. It is also a statement that is both narcissistic and dehumanizing as it suggests the idea that these individuals are not equally affected or appalled by the problems that face our country, or somehow because they work in a form of entertainment they are not eligible to voice their opinions as human beings. It’s also a statement that is patently false. While, there is a point to be made that discussions of certain topics such as politics do not belong in the workplace, the particular workplace of athletic competition has always been politicized.
One can look as far back as the ancient Olympic games, one of the earliest athletic competitions that pitted athletes from differing political states against one another, as an example of the politicization of sports. In that era the games were as much about a display of physical prowess as they were about an opportunity to discuss and resolve political issues. There are multiple cases of the ancient Olympic games being used as a vehicle to resolve conflicts between warring city states or to influence political power and while perhaps the climate surrounding sporting competitions thousands of years ago may not be very relevant to the world today, there are also ample recent examples of sports being politicized and for the benefit of humanity.
When Jesse Owens dominated the 1936 Olympics on his way to four gold medals he stood as the antithesis to everything Adolf Hitler’s propaganda told people to believe about white supremacy. Tommie Smith and John Carlos used the 1968 Olympics and yes, the national anthem, as a vehicle to highlight racial inequality in America and the civil rights movement. Several international sporting bodies barred South Africa from competing in the second half of the twenty-first century because of their apartheid in sport and that helped serve as vehicle of protest and change to the apartheid policies of South Africa.
Political statements have also never been absent from American sport whether it be to show support for political candidates or to bring awareness and change to issues of race. For example, NASCAR has allowed political candidates like Rick Perry and Rick Santorum to buy advertising on race cars. Meanwhile, just two years ago the University of Missouri football team refused to play until then university president Tim Wolfe resigned in response to his inaction to curb the racial abuse that was being experienced on campus. In the NBA, the biggest names in the sport have used their platform in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and on Saturday night the Denver Nuggets too used their platform to highlight the racial inequality in America by interlocking their arms during the national anthem before their preseason game against the Golden State Warriors.
The reason sports and politics are always intertwined is because they each make up a part of the culture which defines us as a nation. While there are those that would prefer to leave entertainment and politics separate, the power behind the platform of entertainment, whether that be the arenas of ancient Rome or the latest hit song or movie out of Hollywood, is too great to leave it as a tool unused for change. The Nuggets players chose to use their platform to highlight the issues that currently face America because they are cultural issues that effect everyone and are worth discussing and worth changing.
That is why it is important to continue to bring awareness to racial inequality. It’s why it was important for the Nuggets to lock arms during the national anthem on Saturday, a protest that symbolizes respect and unity while still abiding by the rules of the NBA, and its why it was important to write this column. Racial inequality is vile and should be rejected by all people. It serves to benefit no one and it violates the very basic principles of this country: all people are created equal, all people are granted the right to pursue happiness.
It is quite clear that using the national anthem as a vehicle for protest is polarizing. It was polarizing when Smith and Carlos raised their fists on the podium in Mexico City in 1968 and its polarizing today. However, that’s the thing about protests, if it’s done in a manner that the opposition views as convenient or acceptable then its not actually a protest at all. Despite the fact that Colin Kaepernick, who started the current protests against racial inequality, changed his method of protest from sitting to kneeling, a symbol that far outdates standing as declaration of loyalty and respect; despite recently the Dallas Cowboys and Baltimore Ravens electing to kneel prior to the anthem and not during it; despite statements by multiple teams that the players are not protesting the national anthem, the flag of the United States of America or the military, the current protests are still met with anger and disdain. This means that at minimum the message has not been delivered effectively enough and at far worse that the true meaning of this protest is being attempted to be high jacked to appease certain voter bases.
No need to ever have the "flag" discussion ever again. Just show this video to whoever doesn't get it pic.twitter.com/w3pGw2pdTn— Dre. (@Blueraydre) September 26, 2017
Because while there are those who can make arguments that police brutality and race are not as related as some want to believe and while each alleged injustice should be judged by the facts that surround it and not every incident will have the facts to support the notion that a misdeed was motivated by racism, and while using the national anthem as a vehicle to highlight racism may be offensive to some, it is an impossible argument to make that racism and inequality do not exist in America today. The events that transpired last month in Charlottesville are a stark example of that and the message, that treating one person different from another due simply to the color of their skin is evil and wrong, cannot be lost because it is entertainers who are championing it. It can not be lost because there are those who would prefer that the ones bringing awareness to the issue just to stick to sports.
Athletes, broadcasters and journalists should and will continue to use their platform, as they always have, to highlight this issue that faces our country, or any others for that matter, because they have power to bring about real change. Think back to the university of Missouri, it was not petitions or hunger strikes that led to Wolfe’s resignation, it was the threat of an SEC football team not showing up for their televised football game. Whether is was the end of wars in ancient times, the exposing of the falsehoods of white supremacy or the destruction of the racist practice of apartheid, political protests through sports helped bring about true and positive change. It brought about that change all while being inconvenient for the opposition because it interrupted their entertainment and highlighted issues while millions watched. Today is no different, as long as issues like racial inequality face this country and as long as athletic competition serves as a form of entertainment that draws millions to it, sports will never stick to sports.