Pearl River It’s totally over now. No way of pretending that sports and politics are not welded at the hip, peas in the same pod anymore. Of course, this has been true forever, but the cultural and corporate presumption, when it served the interests of power, were to pretend they were separate and totally different. This allowed sports business to protect a mass consumer and viewer base on one hand, while keeping their thumb on the scale for the interests of owners, which invariably skewed to self-interested entitlement and often archly conservative views.
Think Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, New York Knicks Dolan, or virtually everyone involved with the New England Patriots, if you lost any facilities during the pandemic. It’s over now because race and union contracts allow players to not only speak their minds, but have the protection to do so. Professional players are no longer vassals of the owners, sponsors, and networks, so racism in sports where African-American players are a majority like professional basketball and football has erased the rightward political line dictated by the owners.
During the cultural and political wars of the 60s whether civil rights or Vietnam, sports figures were dependable poster boys for the wrong side. For every Muhammad Ali or Bill Walton, there were thousands of high school, college, and professional coaches pushing the players to keep their mouths shut and their opinions to themselves “for the good of the team.” Find the lowest common denominator and hold onto it as long as possible.
President Trump is big in the mix here. He wants to presume that the fan base and his base are the same. He will never learn and listen, but it is important that this time as he tries to stir up his kneeling controversy, he is encountering aggressive and immediate pushback. Drew Brees, vaunted New Orleans Saints quarterback, spit out the crow he was eating and had to slap back at Trump trying to use his insensitive and idiotic remark that missed the point about the kneeling protest. For a change, the spineless lapdog of the billionaire NFL owners, Roger Goodell, also had to admit that he had not been listening and concede that players had the right to protest and that the NFL supported it. Since Trump is all about inflaming racial division, it is actually important that Brees and Goodell hit his hands with a ruler and told him to finally pay attention in class.
Steph Curry, Lebron James, and a bunch of other big names are clear that police brutality and racism is simply off limits and doesn’t allow silence. The NFL despite all of the owners’ fulminations, was not able to discipline any players, despite Trump calling for their firing, after their union filed a grievance over the threat. Stephen Jackson, a former NBA player, has been huge in standing up for his Houston friend, George Floyd, killed by police in Minneapolis.
No matter how powerful the SEC teams are, the days when the politics and culture of sports and the NFL are that of “good ol’ boys” from the South are gone. It’s been over in the NBA for a while, and now as Drew Brees learned, it’s way over in the NFL.
Sports is not real life, but it’s important in moving the culture. For sports to start pushing politics on race, war, and police brutality so that peoples’ interest is more important than the opinion of power and privilege is actually a big thing.