by Caleb Feist
13 March 2017
For those who consume sports solely as a form of entertainment, the political overtones from the figures at their center seem to ring hollow.
Campaigning for Hillary Clinton? Shouldn’t you be working on your jump shot, LeBron James?
Hey, Beyoncé, please don’t infiltrate our Super Bowl halftime show with a tribute to the Black Panthers.
In all these cases, the message is simple: stick to the construct we think you should represent and do not veer.
Stick to sports. Stick to acting. Stick to singing.
Just as – I’m sure – we expect accountants to stick to numbers, teachers to stick to educating, and post workers to stick to their deliveries, right?
As the age of Donald Trump has fallen upon us, the political climate has never felt more divisive. Consistently, the “stick to sports” cry has echoed louder than ever before. A simple Twitter search of ‘Colin Kaepernick’ after the realization that the then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback was no longer standing during the playing of the national anthem magnified this divisive climate. The burning of jerseys, the use of racial slurs, and cries of “stick to football” all came in response to a peaceful protest that Kaepernick had no part in publicizing himself.
Kaepernick instantly became the most polarizing figure in sports. But when pressed, Kaepernick didn’t waver. He stated he was protesting police brutality toward African-Americans, as well as racial inequality more broadly. For the “stick to sports” crowd, he became a villain. For others, he became the heroic face of freedom of speech.
Kaepernick, despite being relegated to backup duty, had the highest selling NFL jersey in the weeks and months following. His message, no matter how polarizing, resonated.
Ironically, however, the NFL product is wrapped in political messages: the covering of the field in the American flag during the anthem; the use of military jets for pregame flyovers; an entire ‘Salute to Service’ month dedicated to honoring the United States military. It’s not that the “stick to sports” crowd doesn’t want to be inundated with political innuendos, it’s that they want those innuendos to reaffirm their world view.
As President Trump continues his siege on our nation’s press, the disconnect between the first amendment of the United States and its constituents dilates. It is considered divisive for a coach, athlete, or executive to express political opinion. In fact, the idea of someone from the world of sports or entertainment expressing their anti-Trump sentiment is often spun as elitism.
Of course, anti-elitism is one of the purveying rally cries of the “why Trump won” crowd. After all, there is surely no better way to stick it to the “elites” than to vote for a billionaire real estate mogul who has his own star on the Hollywood walk of fame.
However, this issue is not unique to one side. During the primaries, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady expressed pro-Trump leanings and was met with opposition from the left. Yet, though the response was passionate, there were no calls for Brady to suppress his opinions; in fact, quite the opposite.
The cry to “stick to sports” can be predominantly viewed as the Trump crowd doing their part in echoing their leader’s call for suppression. The cry is for those that entertain (in television, movies, and music, but especially in sports) to shut up and do what they’re paid millions of dollars to do. But the unique platform these entertainers are given is exactly why they should speak up, and do so even louder. These entertainers have an expansive audience, and as a result, have the ability to create real change.
Ultimately, if money and fame really were disqualifiers from political engagement, the current White House would look drastically different.
Caleb Feist is a Masters Student in Sports Management at the University of Kansas.