By Jessika Harkay | Reporter
There’s no such thing as a black and white world, especially in the sports industry.
One’s background will completely mold their bias, affiliation and perspective and it begins with something as small as the belief of whether it was a catch or not (sorry Cowboys’ fans, I get it) or a missed call (Saints’ fans, I’m looking at you). But it’s another thing when those factors develop into the blurred and muddied lines between the separation of politics and sports. As long as both (political and sports) worlds exist and as long as people have the freedom of speech, the two will always stand on a platform together.
Recently, we associate the mess of the two with Colin Kaepernick and kneeling during the National Anthem, or even a little further back to the 1969 Mexico City Summer Olympics after Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in protest against racial discrimination.
What we fail to realize is that sports has been an avenue of expressing political beliefs for centuries. Around 500 A.D. in Constantinople, the Nika Revolts were sparked when emperor Justinian refused to pardon condemned citizens after two chariot teams protested the decision. The revolution resulted in over 30,000 deaths and it’s warranted to say no public speech goes unnoticed, and in some aspects, unpunished.
Let’s look at Kaepernick and his struggle to play in the NFL ever since his demonstration. There’s no such thing as speaking without having an effect.
Any public light will raise a conversation, and that’s the point. No matter how offensive, symbolic or controversial, a domino effect is always created. And oddly enough, proves Newton’s law of motion that an object in motion will stay in motion until an outside force acts upon it, even ideologically speaking.
Social conditions and ideas will stay the same until something creates a push, and after that, in effect, it will continue. Whether we agree with the art of the protest in the sports world or not, we’re in conversation. We create what the Supreme Court calls “a marketplace of ideas,” which in theory instigates debate and in turn has the ability to create change.
We’re all about free speech and standing up for what’s wrong when it aligns with our beliefs, but the real test is valuing the same principles when they don’t agree. Realistically if we ban protest and attempt to separate the two worlds, who genuinely wins?
As theologist Desmond Tutu once said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”
In all, who are we to shut down one’s platform against a perceived injustice? Especially if the symbolic stance is simply just offensive to one of us? To what extent do we value the freedom of speech, even big picture, national stage wise?
If the SCOTUS protected Paul Cohen’s expression with his “F— the Draft” jacket in court in 1971, Gregory Lee Johnson’s expression of burning the American flag in Texas (1984) and Fred Phelps protesting across the street from a military funeral about military kids deserving to die, why do we hesitate to protect athletes using a public forum for things greater than entertainment?
In a timeline of sports political protest written by ESPN writer Steve Wulf, each act of blatant defiance or symbolic gestures connected to bigger human rights issues, often pointing to gender and racial inequality or disagreement with the social climate.
From Jackie Robinson marching with Martin Luther King Jr. in 1958 to Toni Smith turning her back during the National Anthem to protest the US’ involvement in the Iraq war (2003), there’s one thing we have to concede to.
Political speech and sports will always intertwine, whether we’re talking about the traditional White House visit after a championship matchup or athlete endorsements, the problem with acts of protest is that it offends.
Whether we agree by the means of how someone demonstrates their belief or not, whether we believe it’s the right time or not, and whether we believe it’s the right platform, emotions and beliefs aside, we have to appreciate the step towards bringing awareness in hopes of change and conversation.
This conversation of the line between sports and politics is important now, as the US Olympic Committee revealed a ban on protesting in the 2020 Summer Tokyo Olympics earlier in the year. The new rules prohibited protest “including messages on armbands or signs, hand gestures with political meaning, kneeling, or refusal to follow ceremony protocol,” Vox reported. Although the committee compromised to allow political speech on social media or press conferences, why should restrictions begin now?