Whole Nine Sports

Why We Can’t Just “Leave” Politics Out of Sports

Colin Kaepernick
Photo by: John G. Mabanglo
Nic Jones
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Sports are not simply a display of one’s physical gifts, it’s a platform for athletes to freely express themselves in their most comfortable environments. Who you are off the field, court, or stage places no limitations on what you can do once the bright lights are on you. It’s an athlete’s opportunity to be seen and heard, louder and clearer than ever before. With that being said, it’s also a place for those same athletes who are people first, to use that very platform to express their views and thoughts as well. There is absolutely no better time to speak up for the less heard, than when the entire world is watching and listening to you. So no, we cannot simply leave politics out of sports, because right when your eyes and ears are locked into the screen the message you’ve been so dearly avoiding will be given to you when you can no longer avoid it.

Roughly 70% of NFL rosters are African American. 81.1% of the NBA rosters as of 2020 are African American. As prodigious as those numbers are, less than 15% of the U.S. population is African American. Being that the NFL and NBA are the 1st and 3rd respectively, most watched sports in America, that makes the entertainers you love to watch and some of the most prominent athletes on Earth the strongest form of representation black Americans have. I, as an African American male consider athletes in today’s social media age to be our biggest influencers and spokespeople in politics that we’ve had since the likes of MLK and Malcom X. While their words might never hold the same power as their predecessors, their audiences are much broader now than they’ve ever been. White and black players have, if nothing else, one common denominator: the fans love to watch them. It doesn’t matter if they’re watching them play, if it’s a “mic’d up” practice session or a pre/postgame interview; the people want to watch their favorite athletes go about their jobs. The social media aspect itself is booming as the public interest into the personal lives of these individuals is snowballing by the day.

Politics
Photo by: Snemith Vemuri

The reason all that spectator attention in sports is crucial to the advancement of African Americans is because all races are watching and listening to our people all the time. While often this isn’t any fault of their own, the average white individual isn’t educated on the very mission of Black Lives Matter, nor what the practices and mission statements these pro clubs and athletes in support of BLM are displaying. Even simple actions in which BLM isn’t mentioned can get twisted by opposing and ignorant minds, which honestly aren’t sure what it is they’re looking at. The prime example being Colin Kaepernick’s infamous kneels taken during the National Anthem to raise awareness to his advocacy against police brutality and oppression of POCs in America. Somehow a seemingly brilliant idea to force people to pay attention to the social issues he was fighting against got twisted into him being unpatriotic and disrespectful to the soldiers who fight for that very anthem and our flag.

While I don’t believe you can disrespect a piece of cloth nor do I agree America’s “freedom” needs fighting for, (this isn’t the 1770s or 1800s and no country now is going to invade America) I do believe it’s important to understand the connotation of Kap’s message. It had nothing to do with the flag, the military or the actual anthem, (which has an egregiously racist verse that we purposely leave off) it’s simply an attention-grabbing action to cause people to pay attention to him. Once he got the most eyes on him as possible, Kaepernick was then able to effectively preach his message and advocate for his fellow Black and POC Americans. This practice and the support alongside it only sparked more actions from athletes that made people stop and listen who otherwise wouldn’t read about BLM or bother to educate themselves on the daily task that is being black in America. If you haven’t noticed, the otherworldly foul mistreatment of people of color at extremely high rates, in all forms of practice is an engrained part of America’s past and current society. It’s as “American” as any other symbol this country believes that flag represents.

NFL
Photo by: Elaine Thompson

It’s now impossible to ignore the racial tensions in America and to enjoy your favorite sports at the same time and I think that’s absolutely perfect. If you have unwavering support for the equality and advancement of colored people in America then you love to see it, yet if you stand against or are neutral on the topic than I’m sure you’d wish athletes would “stick to sports”. But no, they can’t stick to sports because the average black man or woman, or person of color on the sidewalk can’t grab the opposition’s attention and force them to be empathetic and understand our struggles. Those people would rather sit on their couches and criticize athletes and call them spoiled for complaining over something that they believe doesn’t affect them.

What these athletes are trying to do is preach to the socially insensitive individuals that don’t recognize the imbalance in equity in our country. The intended targets don’t recognize it either because they benefit from this crooked society and don’t want it to change, or because it hasn’t hurt them in the least bit and they simply don’t care about people of color. So, when those “spoiled” athletes who make up less than 2% of the black population in America speak up, that means they’re using virtually the only voices we have. They come from the same places and backgrounds as the typical black and colored people that frequent your grocery stores and neighborhoods, and they even come from and represent the poverty-stricken cities and ghettos that white America likes to often look down upon. While they’re seemingly less oppressed due to their wealth and status, the world will still view them as what they are before anything: a man or woman of color.

NFL
Photo by: Andy Jacobsohn 

They have climbed to the top and the world doesn’t want to accept the fact that they’re fighting for the people at the bottom. When we scream Black Lives Matter after a person of color is wrongfully murdered and we march in the streets, and the disregarded groups of society loot cities to finally get your attention let it be known we tried using our voices and it wasn’t enough. When you’re tired of athletes speaking from their so-called “pedestals” be mindful that you know in your heart you wouldn’t listen to our message if it wasn’t plastered on your television. We cannot leave politics out of sports because the most powerful voices on the planet belongs to its most powerless group of people, and without those athletes those people will not be heard.

If you want to ignore our struggles but enjoy our gifts, that shows what you view us as and what you believe we’re here for. Even us college athletes like myself and those pro athletes that use their platform to educate and inspire the masses to join the fight for equality will not be silenced simply because you refuse to join the fight with us. We are not here for your entertainment and what you want to see is not our job to provide. The “leave politics out of sports” opinions must cease, or they will continue to grow and expand. The same way people want it out of sports they also want it out of entertainment television. People want political messages even about equality out of kids shows because it’s a “mature” topic, yet African American kids must have these same discussions with our parents very young to prepare us for the world. We need these discussions and positive messages spread across our most powerful stages for all to be informed on how society should be and how we should treat one another. We need to be able to sympathize with the less fortunate and offer a helping hand, that was refused to people of color for centuries and on a slightly smaller case still is to this day.

America’s past is a barrier for people of color and often an accelerant to success in life for white people. People will see these athletes set themselves up for life from their God given abilities and forget that everyone with those abilities doesn’t make it, and most times the youth in our poorer communities fall victim to self-destructive traps society has placed against people of color. The leash for our people in America is slim and we get less chances, less opportunities and less assistance on the way to the top. So, while it’s our duties and professions to compete in our field of play, we’re still representations for our people when we take off the uniform. The big guys must stand up for the little guys for them to have a chance; activism in sports is giving African Americans and all people of color around the entire world a chance to be supported. No more blind eyes and no more neutrality, because doing nothing to help is the same as doing your part to oppose the already oppressed. For the sake of little guys everywhere, we cannot leave politics out of sports.