Athletes and Politcs? Give me More!

November 6, 2008

In the wake of the recent historic presidential election in the United States it makes sense to consider some of the intersection between sports and politics.

Many people believe that athletes should keep their personal political beliefs to themselves. Some might believe that owners pay a lot of money to athletes and they shouldn't embarrass the organization. Others reason politics is often divisive and capable of causing problems both amongst the players in the locker room and for the team's relationship with the fan base. Besides, what makes athletes or coaches particularly qualified to talk about politics anyway? And isn't it egotistical on their part to think we want to hear what their opinion is?

Under this line of reasoning, the most noble athlete keeps his head down and only talks about that one all important sports value: Winning. "All I care about is getting the W" you might here them say. But such an attitude does not prove a superior desire for "W's." It may however, suggest a propensity to indulge in "BS."

Here are my Top 10 Reasons as to why we need MORE political expression from athletes and more politically charged questions from the media in Sports.

10. The First Amendment is more important than "management concerns" about the politics expressed by a player.

Freedom of speech and political participation are kind of important concepts. I would hate to think that ownership wouldn't share these values. Of course, if they find it uncomfortable, too bad. They can go somewhere and create a Nazi Germany all for themselves.

9. Which openly political athletes in history became less interesting as a result of their political activism? That's a more important standard than who became less likable.

Muhammad Ali is arguably the most interesting athlete of the 20th Century in large part because he was shockingly political. He was a hated figure for quite a while, but never dull. And sports is entertainment after all. Of course, as a boxer he didn't exactly have the burden of having to answer to ownership or management.

8. Fears of pissing off a fan base or creating locker room discord as a result of political expression are exaggerated.

When is the last time you didn't cheer when your least favorite player hit a home run or scored a touchdown for your favorite team? And when was the last time a winning team didn't seem to develop wonderful team chemistry? Besides, expressing your political views is not inconsistent with basic civility.

7. If athletes make truly foolish or uninformed comments, why is that such a bad thing?

Many athletes may actually have nothing insightful to contribute when they start talking politics. So what? I suppose that may knock them off the pedestal we put them on but Charles Barkley was on to something when he said "Athletes are not role models." It's not that they can't be, but we shouldn't assume they deserve to be just because they play a sport well. Exposing a truly ignorant or bigoted athlete, as opposed to a merely "politically incorrect" one, is generally a good thing.

6. Nobody is forced to give an opinion.

There is also nothing wrong with an athlete simply saying they have no opinion or that they don't wish to share their opinion. That's their right too and nobody would dispute that. Thus, it is silly to suggest that athletes would be unfairly "exposed" or made to look bad if the issues of politics came up. Athletes, like all citizens, have complete control over their level of involvement.

5. Athletes don't need to be "experts"to express political views any more than you or I do.

This is the United States of America. We all get to speak. Some of the most ignorant people in the country are political talk show hosts. What exactly is their "qualification"? What credential does an athlete need? The same one you or I need. None.

4. Volunteering your opinion is an American tradition. Why should Athletes be left out?

Athletes are not being egotistical when they volunteer their political opinions. They are participating in democracy. The more people talking the better. Besides, we heap massive amounts of time, money, and adulation on athletes and yet they think too much of themselves? They should say whatever the hell they want as long as people keep asking them for quotes. If you aren't interested, don't pay attention.

3. It will be fun to watch some athletes squirm when talking about their politics or explaining their lack of interest.

After refusing to oppose former racist North Carolina senator Jesse Helms, Michael Jordan famously stated, "Hey, Republicans buy shoes too." Lebron James refused to sign a petition passed among his teammates criticizing China's policy in Darfur because he didn't want to upset Nike's relationship with Chinese markets. It will be nice to know what are superheroes really think. Yes, athletes sometimes avoid politics not due to fears "division" will result, but for the much more obvious reason that it will cost them fame or fortune. A very practical decision, but why are we so afraid to find that out? And why is it so wrong to talk about it?

2. Everybody cares about more than winning.

Look, I understand that caring about whether your team wins more than whether you as an individual get the most points, hits, touchdowns, etc. is admirable. That's not the only choice though. Caring about something other than the game doesn't make you selfish or negligent. Showing you care about politics and the world around you as opposed to just fame and fortune is not such a bad example. Following up on that point, since people obviously care about more than one thing in life, how is it inconsistent with winning to care about politics too?

1. Sports interviews are typically predictable and boring so anything that makes them more interesting is a good thing.

Listen, I am as interested in detailed analysis as the next guy but a lot of sports is just filler. This is the fault of both the media and the athlete. Don't we almost always know what questions are going to be asked and what the response is going to be regardless of the situation?

Classic Predictable Questions & Answers:

Q: How are you going to prepare for (Team X)?
A: We're just gonna stay focused, take it one game at a time, and try and come out with a victory.

Q: You just played an incredible game. How do you feel?
A: I felt good out there. I was getting a lot of opportunities and just trying to do my part to help us win....

Q: Are you guys ready for (Team X)?
A: They're a good team with a great coaching staff....its gonna be a tough game but we'll be ready.

Q: Who would you rather play in the next round?
A: We don't really care who we play. They're both good teams and pose different challenges. We have to be ready to play either one...

Q: How's the knee coming along?
A: I'm doing rehab and things are going well, we'll have to see what the doctor says...

Q: What do you think about your team just getting (Player X)?
A: I think he'll be a great fit for our ball club. He brings a lot of the skills we need. Right now its about working together, getting adjusted, and finding our rhythm so we play better together as a unit.

Q: How do you feel about being traded here to (City X)?
A: I'm very excited to be here. Of course I had a lot of friends in (City Y) that I'm going to miss but...

Can't we talk about something else?

By Manish Pandya
Staff Editor of




  2. Interesting commetary. The proposition makes sense. It readily already happens where celeb athletes voice their politically charged opinions, but...behind closed doors. Being politically correct, gets in the way of many potential proponents of your idea. However, the grand majority of this group, and their respective representatives (agents, managers, etc.) more than not might say, "it's best to be on the safe side of things." And so they do.


We encourage all intelligent, passionate comments. Please refrain from any ignorant, racist, or offensive rants.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...