The toxic trio of sports, politics and the media

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Illustration by Tyler Carpenter

Before Tom Brady led the New England Patriots to the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history, he, along with team owner Robert Kraft and head coach Bill Belichick, was pressed on his relationship with and support of President Donald Trump. The questions turned into segments on sports talk television programs in which hosts expressed their own political opinions. Most sports fans watch ESPN and other networks to get away from political opinion, not draw closer to it. With similar situations arising on a daily basis, is the new sports world we find ourselves in inevitably intertwined with the political world?

Throughout the history of sports there have been instances of speaking out on important issues. Perhaps the most memorable demonstration came during the 1968 Olympic medal ceremony. Medalists Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists while on the podium, a gesture they later deemed a “human rights salute.” Their actions were scrutinized when they returned to the United States, but the duo had made their mark.

At the start of the 2016 NFL season, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick decided to kneel during the pregame playing of the national anthem. Kaepernick claimed that he would “not stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people.” He had a right to protest whatever he wanted in any legal way possible, but the controversial sit down led to hours of press and air time. Kaepernick then decided not to vote in the 2016 election and the topic gained even more ground.

Earlier this month, Kevin Plank, CEO of Under Armour, committed what’s become an unredeemable sin: he referred to Trump with optimism. “To have such a pro-business president is something that is a real asset for the country,” he said in an interview with CNBC. I know, what an invective statement. As the Dow Jones Industrial Average continues to soar above 20,000 for the first time ever, you’d think the comment from a successful billionaire would go unharmed, but you’d be wrong. After media outrage and more political ideologies being handed out by sports broadcasters, Under Armour’s most famous client spoke out. Reigning NBA MVP Stephen Curry told The Mercury News, “I agree with that description, if you remove the ‘et’ from ‘asset’.” However, following the disrespectful remark Curry reached out to Plank and explained that the two were now on the same page.

Athletes have a right to their opinion, but the media decides which opinions to cover. When LeBron James spoke at a Hillary Clinton rally, he was asked no follow up questions. Conversely, even after the Patriots owner explains how Trump called him every week for a year following his wife’s death, reporters demanded more answers.

If sports figures are going to continue talking politics daily, my expectation is that the media will cover both sides of an issue. However, we are experiencing what it’s like to have others decide what is and isn’t newsworthy.