Are you among those outraged lately that pro sports are ‘too political’? Up in arms that pro leagues refused to play, in protest of the paralyzation of an accused rapist, by police, in Kenosha, Wisconsin? What about athletes kneeling in protest of a flag that just doesn’t mean to them what it means to you?
Colin Kaepernick ruined professional sports.
— Nick Adams (@NickAdamsinUSA) August 27, 2020
To be clear, MAGA lunatics literally call terrorist Kyle Rittenhouse their hero after murdering two people, but hate Colin Kaepernick for taking a knee during the anthem and NBA players for bringing awareness to racial injustice and police brutality. Says it all.
— Ricky Davila (@TheRickyDavila) September 1, 2020
What if we could talk about how sports, though so often a comfortable home for the fermentations of toxic masculinity, have always been political?
What if we accepted that sports, with its ability to draw in the masses, has always been central to discussions about human rights?
The history of the Olympic Games is the obvious place to start. Though over the years the Games have become synonymous with corruption, cheating, and corporate greed, they still draw immense global viewership, and have historically helped drive conversations on race relations, gender studies and equality, and even healthcare.
In 1936, Jesse Owens won four gold medals for the United States. Western media made a great big deal about a black man winning four gold medals in front of Hitler, but Owens himself felt more snubbed at home, where he wasn’t even allowed to live on campus at the University of Ohio, where he trained, and had to take the freight elevator at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York, on the night of a post-Games reception in his honour.
In 1972, 11 Israeli athletes were kidnapped and murdered by Palestinean terrorists fighting against the loss of their homeland.
In 1968, the Black Power Salute made headlines around the world when two Black American athletes borrowed gloves to stand on the podium in silent protest of the anthem that stood for their oppression.
The story of Dr. Carlos and Mr. Smith is an incredible tale of resilience, courage and the fight to stand-up to one’s oppressors and demand change. If you haven’t read their story I would encourage you to take some time to research it. https://t.co/fon74XOAZ0
— 🇦🇺❄️Benji❄️🇨🇦 (@Head_Bee_Guy) May 30, 2020
After Owens came Jackie Robinson, breaking the colour barrier in professional baseball in 1947. If you’re not familiar with one of the greatest sports stories of the 20th Century, get a hold of 42, starring Chadwick Boseman (RIP!), for a taste of what it took, emotionally and physically, for Robinson to be the living symbol who stood for change.
It’s not at all suprising that NBA players, like the Raptors’ Fred VanVleet, spoke out about exhaustion within the bubble before North American pro leagues pressed pause a few days to determine where to go from the place corporate greed had taken them – away from their families and plastering over continued unrest in cities like Portland. The narrative was beginning to forget Black Lives Matter, for the sake of commentators droning on about who might win a sports game.
“At some point, we are the ones always with the microphones in our faces,” he said. “We’re the ones always who have to make a stand. We’re the oppressed ones and the responsibility falls on us to make a change to stop being oppressed. That’s what it boils down to. At what point does it (get to where) we don’t have to speak about it anymore? Are we going to hold everybody accountable?”
To this day, that toxic masculinity that permeates at the surface of sports in general still loves to insist, categorically, that Colin Kaepernick kneeled because he was a second-strong QB losing his job already, and he wanted some press. For shit sakes, fuck that noise.
Kaepernick had only 2,000 yards passing and 16 touchdowns in the last season that he played. He was a second string talent. That was three years ago. He’s just not worth the trouble and he doesn’t have the skill to compensate for all his “look at me” bullshit. That’s his problem.
— Matt Walsh (@MattWalshBlog) November 17, 2019
Sports reach massive audiences, and so it remains vitally important that they continue to be a legitimate part of political and human rights conversations. And when they do, they tend to end up on the right side of history.
Read the room. Even if you, as a sports fan, are uncomfortable mixing a side of politics with your rah-rah loyalties to your all-time favourite team, you can’t deny how sports have helped shape the conversation, most often for the better.
And long may it continue!