This Bob Lang cartoon is a direct reference to Alejandro Villanueva, U.S. Army veteran and Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman, and the moment he stood for the national anthem when the rest of his team did not – a move that many saw as honorable but that Villanueva would later come to say he regretted.
But in today’s Stay TOONED, I want to speak to the broader issue of sports and politics and the growing crossover between the two and put some questions out to the readers.
On Monday night, The Miami Heat’s Dwayne Wade tweeted about one of the victims in the Parkland shooting who was buried wearing the NBA star’s jersey.
Wade wrote: “This is Joaquin Oliver. He was one of the 17 young lives that were lost tragically at Douglas HighSchool in Parkland. Joaquin was one of many that I heard was excited about my return to Miami and yesterday was buried in my jersey. This is why we will not just SHUT up and dribble!”
“Shut up and dribble” is a reference to comments made by Laura Ingraham, a Fox News host who, earlier in February told LeBron James to “shut up and dribble” after James sharply criticized President Trump on social media.
There is a wide swath of America that agrees with Ingraham, believing that athletes should keep their personal opinions about political and social topics to themselves. The argument seems to mostly stem from a desire to have a place they can escape to from the non stop barrage of in your face political discourse and rants we are surrounded with today.
There is also a wide swath of America who feel it is perfectly within their rights to have an opinion and in fact that they have an obligation to use their broad and loud platform to speak for those who cannot. Wade said this “It’s way BIGGER than basketball. We are the voices for the people that don’t get to be heard…”
Athletes and their personal, public and sometimes political statements are nothing new. They have found their way into political discourse for decades – from Jesse Owens and Jackie Robinson to Muhammad. Tommie Smith and John Carlos and their black power salute at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. Shawn Green choosing his Jewish faith over the MLB pennant race. Pat Tillman choosing military service over a promising NFL career. They don’t always do it to garner headlines, but many times they do it to make a point they feel strongly about.
If you scan the comments sections of various media outlets regarding Wade’s or James’ comments or the NFL protests, you will likely see the words “brain dead jock,” “traitor” and far worse. I just read through many of them today. You will also see them hailed as heroes, or social justice warriors beyond reproach by some. Most egregiously I saw someone comment they should just “dance like we pay you to do.”
Like everything else these days, the polarization is palpable and it smacks of mob level group think.
If someone’s talents lead them to a football field or a baseball diamond or a basketball court; if they lead them to Hollywood or the boardroom – if they are reasoned and informed opinions, why are they not allowed to have them simply because they are famous? What is the threshold for someone’s take on a topic to be valid?
I have personally watched many self-proclaimed experts–who couldn’t string two coherent or thoughtful sentences together– trotted out on national television to pontificate on political topics of the day. I’ve also watched people with only– what my dad would call common sense and not book smarts–make the most moving and though provoking arguments.
A genuine understanding of various topics comes from reading and researching and listening. There is no single way to gain that knowledge and often times, athletes done the work or been through the experience to have it. Other times they don’t. Does being an athlete preclude them from having an opinion?
This is America, where you don’t have to like someone’s opinion to like them as a person. It’s understandable that people want their escapism to be free of social justice and political issues. But if we ask athletes not to speak to what is in their hearts–agree with it or not– aren’t we effectively the ones turning them into to the “brain dead jocks” angry comment boards claim to hate?
What say YOU, SOFREP? Sound off in the comments.