By Tim Baffoe–
(CBS) Keep talking.
As Americans, we have run out of figurative safe spaces. Two-and-a-half minutes to midnight for the first time in most of our lives says so. Perhaps no greater illusory one exists than that of the sports world. Don’t let it get earmuffs.
It’s the place where so many ignorant people who will just as easily label someone the epithet du jour, “snowflake,” seek asylum from having a flawed worldview held up to them like a mirror. It’s where smart, critical thinkers burp “stick to sports” at all who dare to acknowledge that politics and sports have always and will always intersect. Oh, how the dumb demand a place to be mindless. And they believe they’re entitled to a world of sports devoid of the political. Nah. Not only does such a sports world not exist, we can’t let such a canard have oxygen.
Ignorance and apathy and delusional escapism make fertile ground for the budding of the dictatorial. Sports can’t be allowed to contribute.
Thankfully, there are those not going gentle into that good night, that darkness of information, however unpleasant and challenging. Plenty of writers who happen to cover sports have made their thoughts known about the ethical and moral conflicts posed in just the first week of the new presidency and its dangerous shadow puppeteers. Bryan Curtis of The Ringer on Monday chronicled some of the names amid the changing duties of Joe and Jane Fedora. Outside of the game whistles, we all need a civics lesson. If writers who like sports are to be some of the instructors, fantastic.
Others have done the service of asking coaches and athletes for their thoughts. Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr was asked Sunday about the recent executive order targeting Muslim refugees. Kerr, who was born in Lebanon and whose father was executed by terrorists in Beirut, had this to say:
Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry was a bit more succinct in his response to similar question, though no less apt (caution: NSFW).
This is good. Reporters need to continue to ask the political thoughts of sports figures because sports figures are shapers of culture, as all entertainers are, no matter how much certain wealthy pundits will try to deflect with “Hollywood elite” ad hominem. Sure, a coach or athlete has the right to avoid a political question — if they haven’t otherwise injected themselves already like Tom Brady did when he placed a “Make America Great Again” cap in his locker for the media to see and yet now cowardly dodges any questions about his relationship to the president. Weak sauce as it is to pretend you’re robot without politics, kudos to those willing to deal with the backlash in favor of honesty. We all must keep talking. History shows that avoiding the difficult topics of discussion only worsens them. You can’t ignore away a cancer.
Sports is politics is art. Because too much is at stake for too many people, we don’t get to hide in a world of box scores. This past weekend showed that most obviously at America’s airports and, again, that was just Week 1.
There will be those in the sports world who attempt to derail the conversations and righteous actions. Keep talking. ESPN broadcaster Sage Steele flexed her privilege and stood up for those who appreciate a good protest so long as it fits their convenience level and posted about how protesters at LAX made people miss flights, including (boom) immigrants. Steele also used Twitter for some Facebook-y thoughts last year on Tampa Bay Buccaneers receiver Mike Evans kneeling during the national anthem and made the odd reprimand of “We’re talking celebrity stuff, not politics” to Arcade Fire’s Win Butler, who tried to speak on healthcare during the last NBA All-Star Weekend.
Aubrey Huff, ruiner of multiple fantasy baseball teams of mine, was on Twitter on Sunday acting very much like a dude named Aubrey Huff. In several tweets of veiled bigotry that he has since deleted after getting waxed by not stupid people, Huff choked on a dip over people he was probably watching from a distance on TV stand up for their fellow man.
So he keypad smashed “I mean seriously what the hell is going on? If you have time 2 march, protest and riot. Maybe it’s time for something called a job!” — for which people reminded him he was both describing a Sunday and ignoring how a labor union fought for what he has now in unemployment. He also retorted to critics, “Yeah there hasn’t been any protests or marches Monday thru Friday my bad,” inadvertently bus-tossing last Friday’s conservative-leaning March for Life marchers.
Former pitcher, current Texas Rangers broadcaster, paternalist, sexual assault apologist and Bible passage Twitter bio holder C.J. Nitkowski chose to mock now-former Attorney General Sally Yates on Monday night after she was fired by Trump for refusing to enforce something she found unjust.
The Steeles, Huffs and Nitkowskii are crucial to keeping these conversations going, though. Famous sports figures need to make the really bright comments and really witless stuff because the latter will collide with the former and foster discussion (like Dan Le Batard’s response to Steele and ESPN) and people paying more attention to the very serious domestic and world problems being exacerbated right now.
Human beings who play and coach and write about and consume sports must keep talking about the humanity of the world. As shapers of culture, there’s a certain duty in that. And they owe it to the military they praise that may be needlessly sent into harm’s way for oil and/or against an enemy galvanized by our own politicians. To the Make-a-Wish kid whose health care may now be compromised. To the mothers, sisters, wives, daughters and teammates certainly not respected by this administration. To the teammates and fans of color whose lives stand to get a lot worse in America before they get better.
The frightened bearers of the status quo, emboldened by a fascism that they refuse to acknowledge is repeating history right in front of their faces, can’t win in shouting constructive criticism and social justice into silence.
Brandon Saad of the Columbus Blue Jackets needs to talk about his Syrian refugee family’s struggles. Let NASCAR’s — friggin’ NASCAR’s — Dale Earnhardt Jr. speak, even in simple volumes.
Former Bull and current Lakers forward Luol Deng sure as hell gets to talk.
A huge chunk of the NBA has to speak out against obvious racism masked as national security. More books about not sticking to sports should be written, like that of former Chicago Bulls guard Craig Hodges. Wisconsin Badger guard Bronson Koenig is right to shove the continued inhumanity toward fellow Native Americans in our faces.
Gaslighting and doublespeak are going to be staples of how information is presented to us by the powers that be for the next four years. This is already established. The powers that be want those who point out lies and inconsistencies and wrongdoing to literally shut up.
Combatting all that through listening to smart people and critically thinking and speaking up against injustice is grueling and tiresome, and a fatigue will set in where self-preservation seems to be the best course of action instead. But the more outlets for ignorance there are, the more that misinformation will thrive. Sports can’t be such. I won’t let it, and luckily a lot of others won’t either.
The bad guys win when sports shuts up. Keep talking.
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.