Don’t Separate Sports and Politics

Whether you’re one of the many people boycotting the NFL this year or you’re kneeling alongside Kaepernick, it’s worth a look at how sports are and always have been politically involved. You don’t have to be athletic to care about sports, because they are a way to voice an opinion and stand up for what is right. The only thing is, we often like to look the other way when the issue is intranational. It’s easier to root for the home team when the home team isn’t divided.

I can bet you ten bucks that you watched Miracle in high school. Was I right (if you haven’t seen it, it’s really worth the watch)? The 2004 sports docudrama depicts one of the most symbolic physical feats of America at the time: defeating the Soviet Union hockey team during the Cold War. Not only is this movie loved and revisited for its sentimental value, but it also gives us a powerful lesson on why we love sports.

Ever read The Boys in the Boat? Like Miracle, it’s a historic story detailing nine working-class American boys’ journey for gold at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. When the American rowing team defeated Hitler’s beloved German team, it was yet another symbolic moment of both sports and political defiance.

Clearly, sports are incredibly loved nation-wide. They gather people all across the country to root for a common cause: win the game. The same thing goes for politics when it comes to winning political races, only different rules of the game apply. This time, politicians aren’t using boats or ice skates to win the game, they’re using values and promises to sway the fans.

So when politics and sports come together, should we be surprised? Absolutely not. Sports have always been, and continue to be, a mechanism for America to perform self-reflection. Think back on black athletes and female athletes who struggled to simply compete for a very long time. Now, it’s unimaginable that a woman would not be allowed to play a sport. But those rights were fought for once upon a time.

Only a month ago, Serena Williams was fined for arguing with the referee during one of her matches. Her argument with the referee was quickly labeled a “meltdown,” while political cartoons erupted the very next day depicting her throwing a temper-tantrum on the court.

The reaction from many Americans was split: while many drew her as a hysterical mess, others felt she was not being taken seriously. Still, sports continue to be a representation of the political atmosphere we are living in. You don’t need to understand tennis on its own to see what is going on beneath the rules.

So when it comes to Kaepernick, and black athletes in general, take a moment to think about what is really going on. It may be an “old issue” for some, but it’s still a current event for many. Why did the American team fight so hard to win over the Soviet Union during the Cold War? Why did the American teams want to win during the 1936 Olympics in front of Hitler? Why did Serena fight the referee against her fine? Why did Jim Thorpe’s fans fight for his medals to be reinstated? Why do black athletes kneel before they play? There is a statement lying underneath all of these events. Search for it and remember what history has to say.


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