Balancing Politics in Sports

By Ethan Miller ’23

Colin Kaepernick. LeBron James. Anthem Protests. “Let’s Go Brandon”. Over the past decade, sports and politics have become increasingly intertwined. Many condemn this combination for distracting from the on-field product. Others say that athletes need to be able to use their platforms to promote change. The connection between politics and sports is stronger than ever, and that’s okay- as long as all sides are represented.

Many remember when Colin Kaepernick sat during the national anthem prior to an NFL game 5 years ago, on August 16th, 2016. The 49ers QB sat on the bench to protest racial inequality and police brutality- and the world erupted. Kaepernick started the ball rolling for other high-profile players to protest that season. He was praised for his courage and beliefs by many in the political community, but also alienated military members. After talking with former military members, Kaepernick switched to kneeling, setting the stage for political protests today.

While Kaepernick was one of the first in decades to protest at such a high level of American sports, athletes using their platform to make a statement is not new. John Carlos, a sprinter who raised his fist while on the podium in the 1968 Olympic Games, used his platform to speak out against racial inequality. Carlos was blackballed from the IOC as a result. In today’s America, no athlete is blackballed for speaking out, as fans and teams embrace (for the most part) the openness from the players.

Ultimately, politics belong in sports when all viewpoints are accepted by fans and sponsors. The issue arises when an athlete speaks out about something that a large part of the population disagrees with. When that happens, the same people who lauded politics in sports want them to be removed.

This inconsistency happens on both sides of the aisle and is constantly flipping back and forth. Take Bubba Wallace- his bold protest prior to and during NASCAR races last spring when Black Lives Matter took off was praised by millions across the nation (and rightfully so). However, when driver Corey LaJoie’s race car was sponsored by Trump 2020 later in the summer, politics suddenly didn’t have a place in sports in many fans’ eyes. While not the exact same circumstances, the double standard by many shows how fickle people can be. Even if some will always be offended by keeping politics in sports, it’s necessary to give athletes a voice. But for it to work, all viewpoints must be allowed representation- not just the ones you agree with.

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