A common debate over the last five years has been over the relationship between sports and politics. Recent events have caused me to ponder this subject once again.
The issue came up a couple of weeks ago when Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred announced that the league would pull the 2021 All-Star Game out of suburban Atlanta in response to a new state voting law that makes it harder for Georgians, specifically Black Georgians, to vote. It is a significant rebuke from the game of baseball, which has historically shied away from political discourse.
I won’t say whether I support or oppose the decision by MLB to move the event out of Georgia, but it is obvious that a certain segment of American society is upset with this decision.
“MLB caved to fear, lies of liberal activists and ignored the facts of the new election integrity law,” Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said in a news conference last Saturday.
Republican Sens. Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and Josh Hawley plan to introduce a bill to revoke MLB’s antitrust exemption.
It also came up again this week in the aftermath of the killing of Daunte Wright, an unarmed Black man who was shot and killed by a police officer during a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota. Three sports teams in the Twin Cities: the Twins, Timberwolves and Wild postponed their games in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.
The segment of America that is upset with this decision is also upset with sports and politics mixing together. Their goal is to keep them separate from one another so they can be entertained without athletes infringing upon their steadfast political views. However, they fail to realize that the mixture of sports and politics has been happening longer than we’ve been alive.
It is often that when political conflicts manifest in sports, it creates history. Jesse Owens won four gold medals in the 1936 Berlin Olympics in the face of Nazi oppression, Jackie Robinson broke the baseball color barrier almost 20 years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed and Muhammad Ali was arrested in 1967 after dodging the Vietnam War draft in protest.
Those are historical examples of politics intersecting with sports. However, those events happened in an era where the majority of athletes were exclusively focused on winning games. We have moved on from an era where most athletes were disengaged and uninterested in political discourse. The amount of progress star athletes have made in recognizing the power of their voice has come a long way in recent years.
Compare this to the 1990s when Michael Jordan famously claimed, “Republicans buy sneakers, too,” when refusing to endorse an African American Senate candidate who ran against an incumbent who was notoriously racist, to the Atlanta Dream of the WNBA campaigning for Sen. Raphael Warnock in his successful campaign against Dream co-owner Kelly Loeffler.
Today, athletes and sports leagues are more than willing to use their platforms to speak up on social injustices pertaining to certain communities in America, which leads to more of a mixture of politics and sports.
Those who disagree with sports being mixed with politics should recognize that this is nothing new. Whether you agree or disagree with it, it’s not going away anytime soon.