By DJ Ramirez | Sports Writer
As the controversy between the NBA and China grows after the tweet sent out by Rockets general manager Daryl Morey in early October, I have been thinking more about the relationship between sport and politics and whether the two should even intersect.
There is a reason I prefer writing about sports rather than politics. Politics tend to create rifts within society rather than bring people together the way that sports do. Trust me, I don’t care if you’re a Republican or a Democrat, but if you’re a Yankees fan, we cannot be friends.
But as much as I hate to admit it, the truth is that politics touch every part of our lives, including sports. The two have always intersected.
Athletes, managers, sports team owners and other figures in the history of athletics have played pivotal roles in the political sphere.
What really bothers me about this is when people want to ignore that intersection when it’s convenient to them. That is the real issue I see with the debate between the NBA and China.
Let’s start with LeBron James, who has worked extensively throughout his career to use his platform as an athlete to create civil and philanthropic change and is a known critic of the current White House administration. Yet when Morey tweeted a graphic that read, “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong,” James criticized the Rockets GM for being “misinformed” and for not thinking about the consequences it would cause the NBA, mainly the financial consequences.
However, James did clarify that he did not mean to start a fight with Morey, only that he meant to remind people to know the facts when speaking out about political issues. I do agree with that. We should be informed about tense situations, but although I may not know much about Chinese politics, as a writer, I do know something about freedom of expression.
It should not come down to financial gain whether we are allowed to support a cause or not, or whether we should or shouldn’t speak out about it. That’s kind of how James’ initial comments came across. If you believe in equality and freedom and in fighting for those values on your own soil and for your own people, you should also be willing to fight for those values on foreign soil for all people.
On the other hand, there are those that support Morey for defending American values against China while condemning the NBA for trying to shut down the situation for financial reasons. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing to do, but I think they should ask themselves if the same thing does not also happen in America.
Money and politics are two sides of the same coin. Financial gain drives a lot of decisions in this country, especially when it comes to politics.
But I also want you to think about all the times athletes and other sports figures have tried to use their status as athletes to create social and civic change.
Think about Jesse Owens, an African-American, competing against German athletes in the Olympics while Hitler strove to prove the superiority of the Aryan race. But the president of the United States did not even send him a letter to congratulate him because being associated with a person of color could hurt his re-election campaign.
Think about Muhammad Ali refusing to go to Vietnam and fight against a people that had not caused him any harm simply because the government wanted to prove its power. Ali was convicted of a felony for refusing to go into military service and lost his boxing license for three years.
Think more recently about Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem. Now I don’t completely agree with this, but I do admire the fact that he wanted to bring attention for something he believed in and lost his job because of it.
We should remember all the times athletes have tried to bring light to issues on American soil and have been told to mind their own business and stay out of politics. A person can go out and take care of his or her business on the court, on the track or on the field, and still have an opinion about things that could affect them outside of their athletic lives.
DJ is a junior journalism new media major from Houston.