If Sports Are Not Political
If sports are not political, then explain to me why Jesse Owens was banned from the sport of running after winning four Olympic gold medals.
If sports are not political, then explain to me why Jackie Robinson had to promise not to fight back against racism before the Dodgers were willing to sign him.
If sports are not political, then explain to me why Muhammad Ali had his boxing titles stripped when he refused the draft.
If sports are not political, then explain to me why half of the world boycotted the 1980 Olympics, and the other half of the world boycotted the 1984 Olympics.
If sports are not political, then how did we end up with a bunch of team names that are ethnic slurs?
If sports are not political, then how is it, precisely, that a talented, young quarterback in Colin Kaepernick can be denied a contract, just because the President of the United States doesn’t like how he expresses his first amendment rights?
Sports are political. They always have been. The ancient Olympics served as proxies and substitutes for armed conflict, and the Nika Riots nearly destroyed the city of Constantinople over the question of what everyone’s favorite horse racing team was. You cannot separate sports from politics.
But a certain segment of the population, somehow, believes that not only can you do this, but that you should do this. That somehow sports should exist in a vacuum, unaffected by the events of the world around them. I imagine that this segment of the population is generally used to being on the side of politics that is in control. That they’re used to being the ones who get to determine what is and isn’t politics.
The same subset of people who got to decide that Jesse Owens’s career was over, are the same subset of people who got to decide when Jackie Robinson’s career would start. The same subset of people who deemed Ali’s protest against American involvement in Vietnam to be un-sportsmanlike, are the same subset of people who chose to use sports to protest Soviet involvement in Afghanistan.
It’s genuinely awe-inspiring to see athletes across several major sports make the collective decision to use their platform for good. To come together around a single issue, to take a stand together and to say “this issue transcends all other issues.”
We cannot continue to ignore the violence that the Black community experiences in America. We cannot continue to pretend that the human rights of Black Americans are somehow a taboo subject that public figures aren’t allowed to talk about if they value their careers. To pretend that because someone is an athlete, they aren’t also allowed to be human.