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On Tuesday, the NFL announced that it will be putting social justice statements in the end zone of every stadium this season. According to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, the messages will say “End racism” and “It takes all of us.”
“The NFL stands with the Black community, the players, clubs and fans confronting systemic racism,” Goodell said on the conference call announcing the new policy. “We will not relent in our work.”
How very brave. Goodell has apparently discovered his inner social justice warrior as soon as he deemed it financially lucrative for the league and himself. I will remind you that this is the very same man who couldn’t have cared less when the Colin Kaepernick protest appeared to be unpopular with fans four years ago. But now he claims the mantle of Black Lives Matter being “our work” and promises not to relent. Please.
This kind of shameless corporate hackery is rampant in the sports world today.
Responding to the national protests and the ascendency of the Black Lives Matter movement, the NBA and WNBA both took the step of plastering “Black Lives Matter” on the court when they returned to action. Other sports, like Major League Baseball, joined into the corporatization of this social movement, stamping “BLM” on the mound during opening day.
And, of course, the professional sports activism turned up the heat last week as leagues all across the country canceled games in protest of the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Professional athletes explain their increased activism in terms of social conscience. The universal refrain is that athletes feel compelled to use their voice to speak out against social injustice, so that they may raise awareness about the issue and put pressure on those in power to solve the issue.
Interesting, though, that the supposed brave guardians of our social fabric are utterly silent about the NBA throwing out fans who expressed support for those in Hong Kong that are currently being brutally repressed, silenced and imprisoned by the Chinese government.
Rather famously, would-be political science professor LeBron James quipped that Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey was “misinformed” or “not educated” after Morey had tweeted very tepid support for the Hong Kong protesters. Then again, the NBA is big business in China, so why bite the hand that feeds, right?
There is no question about the fact that the players have a constitutional right to speak, and to be activists. The First Amendment, which I cherish, guarantees that right, and thankfully so. But just because they can, does that mean they should?
Being alive in 2020 means that absolutely everything has been politicized.
Every waking minute of my life is haunted by political candidates and social movements bombarding me with advertising. Movies and television continually shoehorn in one-dimensional political statements, waterboarding me with sanctimonious lectures about what I should believe and why. Evening talk shows, which used to be innocuous, superficial fun, now feature a lineup of hosts who find political statements to be among their chief jobs.
Award shows are now nothing more than a collection of political stump speeches, with insulated celebrity after celebrity wagging their fingers at the screen and forcing me to listen to what they consider a very important message about their political opinions.
Even things like a worldwide outbreak of a new virus have turned intensely tribal.
Where can any of us go if we wish to escape this never ending avalanche of politics? What if the politicization of everything is actually exacerbating our social problems, and is increasing the bitterness, anger and hatred springing up all across the country? Where would you go to get some kind of relief from the madness?
The answer used to be sports.
Sports are one of the greatest unifying tools that we have at our disposal. Go to any game in any professional sports venue, and just look at the crowd. You will have people of all demographic classes, all political persuasions, all religions and all cultural backgrounds watching a game, together. Cheering for the same thing, together.
Strangers high five each other and hug when a team or a player they both care about succeeds. When something exciting happens, we all rise to our feet, together. Sports have done more to destroy prejudice and discrimination than any blowhard talking head ever did.
And yet now, sports is no longer a refuge from the political. Now, it is a newly opened theater of war in our never ending cultural battle with ourselves.
Are we really the better for it?
Matthew Gagnon of Yarmouth is the chief executive officer of the Maine Policy Institute, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. A Hampden native, he previously served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C.