He had just turned sixty and replaced a hip, though he didn’t look it. He was tanned, squared-faced; enough gray in his hair to cement his worldly credentials. He wore his button down dress shirt stuffed severely into his kaki pants, unencumbered by too large a gut. He was from Chicago. We got to talking about baseball.
“I stopped watching baseball for awhile,” he admitted, “All the political stuff turned me off. I’m getting back into though. I just started ignoring the off-the-field crap.”
We left it at that and moved on. Political crap can have an adverse effect on more than just your love of sports, after all. For example, it can hamper the growth of a budding friendship. Best to stick with the sudden reemergence of Kris Bryant.
Some people like beets
Never talk religion or politics. That was an easy rule to follow until social media emerged from the digital ooze and made everyone an armchair provocateur. Before social media, one might spend decades unearthing the political or spiritual preferences of friends or even family. Today, that knowledge is made available at a glance. Just scroll through that person’s Twitter feed or Facebook page, and you’ll receive more than the gist.
What we learned is that there’s a kind of tingling power to having that social platform. Suddenly, your thoughts are given digital form and popularity. For example, when once only a select few knew of my distaste for beets, now I can brutally attack beets to everyone with access to my social handles. Beets suck, you guys!
Thing is, some people like beets. And when you say that “beets suck,” you’re implying that people who like beets sort of suck, too. I didn’t intend to insult lovers of beets. I just don’t like beets. But a small fraction of people who like a good beet will remember your slander forever.
Actually, some people didn’t like President Trump
I know, but let’s be real, it’s true. There’s just something about the guy. With social media, not only could you express your feelings for Donald Trump (positive or negative), but you could also weigh in on the consequences of those feelings. The urge to post “Your feeling is dumb!” was simply far too compelling to ignore.
And it had an affect on the things we loved. Take women’s soccer superstar Megan Rapinoe, as one example. At one point, a reporter shoved a microphone into her face and wanted to know that if the women won the World Cup, would she be up for visiting President Trump at the White House.
“Psssh, I’m not going to the fucking White House,” Rapinoe muttered. Before social media, this was a 24-hour soundbyte at best. But social media allowed us all to weigh in on Rapinoe and her feelings about the 45th President of the United States for weeks. Some of us were good with Rapinoe’s position; others, not so much. Friends of mine who visited other countries to watch the U.S. Women’s National Team tossed their scarfs into the trash out of disgust. President Trump, not one to let bygones be bygones, hurled a few yard-jarts towards Rapinoe on Twitter. Everybody was angry now.
Everybody was still fuming even with the USWNT won another Gold Cup and brought pride to the nation. Whatever. Rapinoe didn’t like Trump, so many just added women’s soccer to the boycott list.
That Sports Boycott List Got Pretty Long
Whenever we’re mad, the first thing we want to do is boycott. I’m no different. Several years ago, I put my allegiance to Chik-fil-A sandwiches on hold when I learned that ownership wasn’t keen on the homosexual community. Boo! I said.*
Over recent years, many have “boycotted” a number of sports leagues for its stars becoming “too political.” Of course, it wasn’t the issues that were political. The issues were social. Politicians made the issues political. A lot of us didn’t see it that way. Many of us vehemently disagreed with the issues under discussion and decided to indict the entire organization with the most extreme charges (Marxism, communism, racism, anti-capitalism, anti-democracy, anti-police, anti-military, pick what makes you angriest).
Lifelong football fans dropped the NFL overnight. The NBA soon followed. When drivers began to unite behind Bubba Wallace, it was too woke for even some of the most diehard NASCAR fans. The national pastime wasn’t safe either. The MLB’s decision to pull the All-Star game out of Atlanta (suburbs) had fans canceling their TV packages. It seemed that not a single sport was clean of political commentary. Even the PGA was getting a little woke. Was there not a sporting event that could just stick to sports?
Here’s An Idea: Fans Stick to Sports
ESPN receives a great deal of criticism for its political commentary, and I get why. Sports is a comfort food for our brain. We don’t watch sports to contemplate the difficult issues of our times. We watch sports to escape them.
However, sports often mirror the difficult issues of our time – whether it’s Jackie Robinson breaking the MLB color barrier or Rick Monday thwarting a flag burning in center field. Separating politics from sports isn’t easy because the people who play sports happen to belong to society, too.
We don’t always universally like the political message sports project. Sometimes it takes time. We all agree that Robinson belonged in the MLB now, right? That sentiment wasn’t so strong in the 1950s.
You might say that today’s “political athlete” is different. They dare to criticize the very machine that has made them wealthy and famous. As fans, we pay enormous cable fees and ticket prices to maintain that athlete’s lifestyle, and damnit, I want a touchdown, not a lecture about solar energy. Kneel during the Anthem in the privacy of your own home.
The truth is, we’re allowing politics and the politicians that weld the messages to ruin the fan experience. It’s not the athletes. They’re merely expressing an opinion upon the stage we’ve given them. It’s us. We choose to allow the message to ruin our fun.
Like the Rest of Us, Athletes are Silly People
Jackie Robinson was a champion of conservative values. After his retirement from baseball, he happily endorsed Richard Nixon. Muhammed Ali, who famously tossed his Olympic medal into the Ohio River, endorsed Ronald Reagan. Tony Gonzalez tossed a few thousand bucks to Hillary Clinton’s failed presidential campaign. Tommy Tuberville rode a wave of sports cliches into the Senate. Athletes have politics – and sometimes very weird opinions – and they don’t always match your own.
I admit, the discourse appearing on baseball diamonds, gridirons and hard courts leans heavily in one direction, and that may feel like a personal attack. Nobody likes to be told that their beets are stupid. But I invite you to look beyond the social media chaff and re-identify with the elements of sports that drew you to them in the first place. A touchdown has no voter history.
PHOTO CREDIT: The internet remains undefeated. Direct all legal calls to my lawyer.
*Eventually, I gave up my boycott of Chik-Fil-A. I told myself that public criticism had shifted the company’s toxic weltanschauung, but really I just like their chicken.