“Stick To Sports”, Never Existed…

I have written about this subject of activism in sports before, so this topic certainly isn’t new. “Before” was back in 2015, safe to say, things certainly have changed. In the last two years, it’s been stated more and more how major sports media outlets have a “liberal bias” and lost the ability to “stick to sports”. With the recent comments made by Jemele Hill, the same narrative has been all over the internet, “I wish ESPN (or whomever) would just stick to sports”. Many think, the “stick to sports” era is over, but the truth is, it never existed.

Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics

The proof is there, through countless examples of athletes, or fans, being at the center of political movements. Whether we have revisionist history (we do), or simply are prisoners of the moment (we are), society somewhere along the line, created the idea that politics and sports were meant to be in two separate worlds. Reality disputes this, as we sing the national anthem before our games, the NFL “celebrates” the military, NBA teams initiated Spanish heritage nights as a political statement, ESPN has interviewed respective presidents many times over the years , and we celebrate when teams stand locked in arms with police men and women. Somewhere through all of that, the fictional idea of sports and politics being separate, has been accepted.

We now live in a time when not only are media outlets powerful, but the digestion of media has changed. Our access to information through the media is easier than ever. With this, comes the challenge of disconnect, not just from the things we love, but the things which make us uncomfortable. It’s why the most common defense of “Stick to sports” is, “Sports are supposed to be our escape from reality”. The reality is this way of thinking, is, and has never been realistic. Accessibility is a tough thing to control once you have opened the floodgates. Whether viewers want to admit it or not, although sports CAN be an escape from the everyday lives we live, sports are more of a reflection of the lives we live and accept. Our obsession with violence, sex, alcohol, over-indulgence, and power, are all reflected in the sports themselves, or the commercials we watch. The reflection of our messiness as a society is bound to show itself as well.

Getty Images

The mixture of Politics and sports isn’t the issue, the real issue is we have as a society is being uncomfortable. We dismiss “stick to sports” when it’s OUR politics, OUR activism, OUR opinion being mirrored in the things we enjoy in our respective pastimes. This isn’t a liberal issue, and certainly isn’t a conservative issue, but an issue with hypocrisy. Over the past two weeks, we have seen players around the league unite for what has happened in Houston, with Harvey, and Florida with Irma. We commend the players for using their platform to raise awareness for a cause that society deems as a universal good, and vilify the player who uses his platform to speak for the disenfranchised. We must challenge ourselves in remembering the idea of standing up for “universal causes”, is subjective, based on what society dictates to be “universal”. It’s easy to stand up for these causes, but true growth doesn’t come from acknowledging what’s easy. It’s easy to wish for Jemele Hill to be fired, while dismissing ESPN paying Hank Williams Jr. to come back and sing for Monday night football. “Political balance” isn’t the issue, “Stick to Sports” isn’t even the issue, but these are merely excuses for hypocrisy. Jemele Hill points this out in a new article from “The Ringer”.

“When critics complain that they’re mixing genres, Smith hears the ring of a double standard. “When Bill Simmons does it, he’s celebrated for it …” he told me. “When [Scott] Van Pelt does it, he’s awesome, he’s everyman, we relate to him. When Barstool does it, they’re anti-establishment, they’re new, they’re fresh, they’re the anti-ESPN. “When we do it? ‘Get this black shit out of here!’ That’s what it feels like.”

JD Power survey on NFL viewership — Credit: Washington Post

Recent studies have tried to point out the reasoning behind the recent NFL viewership decline, but it has been failed to point out that many NFL fans stating their viewership actually increasing as well. The faux-anger will eventually go away, as we continue to be prisoners of each respective moment. The NFL keeps making money for a reason. Like it or not, politics aren’t going disappear from sports television, simply because they have always been an aspect of sports. This will continue to be a topic of conversation for both the public, and companies such as ESPN. With the growth of more outlets, there more opportunities for voices to be heard. Don’t be Clay Travis, what more voices should inspire, is better conversation.

Credit: The Ringer, New York Daily News, ESPN, Sports Illustrated, Twitter, Washington Post, Market Watch (All listed in respective hyperlinks)

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