Sports: An Excuse to Talk About Politics

What was the biggest sports story of 2017? If you polled sports fans, I am pretty sure the New England Patriots’ stunning come-from-way-behind overtime victory in the Super Bowl would come out on top. The Houston Astros’ World Series win would be a contender. Fans of other sports would offer alternatives. But for the Associated Press, and increasingly for many sportswriters, sports are significant mostly insofar as they present an opportunity to talk about politics. Thus this Associated Press headline: “NFL protests named top sports story of 2017.”

President Donald Trump couldn’t stand NFL players kneeling in protest during “The Star-Spangled Banner.” His angry call to fire players who didn’t stand for the national anthem rekindled both the national debate over the issue and the movement itself.

Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick initiated the protests last year to bring attention to racial inequality and police brutality against minorities.

Colin Kaepernick didn’t play a game in 2017, yet he is the first athlete mentioned by the AP. He was GQ’s 2017 Citizen of the Year too, even though whatever he did to earn that honor occurred in 2016.

The president’s feud with the NFL is the runaway winner for the top sports story of 2017 in balloting by AP members and editors, easily outdistancing the corruption scandal engulfing college basketball and the Houston Astros winning their first World Series and lifting the spirits of a city devastated by Hurricane Harvey.

The AP goes on to tick off other notable sports events, some of which also involved politics. But all of them, the AP says, were “overshadowed by the NFL protesters and the president’s dive into the debate.” Really? By what standard?

The racial standard, I guess. The AP explains that the kneeling controversy was all about race:

[President Trump] pushed back against the suggestion that his critique could inflame racial tensions, arguing: “This has nothing to do with race. This has to do with respect for our country.”

But critics of the president said Trump’s comments had a lot to do with race.
***
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Trump’s comments were “divisive” and showed an “unfortunate lack of respect.”

A handful of white players didn’t stand, but the vast majority of those actively protesting were black.
***
Trump supporters argued the president was not targeting African-Americans but instead was simply expressing patriotism.

If it has to do with race and offers an opportunity to bash President Trump, it must be the year’s most important sports story, even though it has little to do with sports.

We saw the same thing yesterday on the local scene. The Minneapolis Star Tribune named Cheryl Reeve, coach of the Minnesota Lynx, its Sportsperson of the Year. You may or may not be aware that the Lynx play in the Women’s National Basketball League, and are good: they have won several league championships, including last year’s. So they are a legitimate sports story, although there is zero chance that a vote of Minnesota sports fans would have selected Ms. Reeve as sportsperson of the year.

But sports had little to do with Reeve’s selection, as the Strib’s article makes clear. This is how it begins:

On July 7, 2016, Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve woke up in her Uncasville, Conn., hotel room to the news.

Philando Castile had been shot during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights. The day before, a black man, Alton Sterling, had been shot by police outside a store in Baton Rouge, La.

“I couldn’t imagine how they were feeling,” Reeve said of her team. “I couldn’t sit back and do nothing.”

It’s all about race, and politics. Here is the payoff:

They decided upon a T-shirt to be worn during warmups before the next home game. In a news conference the four captains — Moore, Brunson, Whalen, Augustus — wore black shirts. “Change starts with us,” the shirts said. “Justice and Accountability.” On the back, Sterling’s name, Castile’s name, the emblem of the Dallas Police Department, whose members had been ambushed that week.

“Black Lives Matter.”

The press relentlessly promotes the Black Lives Matter movement, which is at best ill-informed and at worst racist and homicidal. This is, of course, what was going on at the AP, too. The Strib acknowledges that not everyone was happy about the Lynx mixing politics with basketball:

There was pushback. Four off-duty police officers walked out of Target Center that night. But talk to Reeve, talk to the players, they’ll say a dialogue was started. And, agree or not, the players saw a coach who cared.

For a great many liberals, the only important thing is race, and therefore sports stories are important only to the extent that they can be twisted into racial narratives. I’m so old, I can remember when everyone thought sports were a powerful force for racial integration and mutual respect. Actually, in those days, they were. But, courtesy of liberals, those times are gone.

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