By Tim Baffoe–
(CBS) We can make endless sports metaphors about politics, which shows how ingrained in all aspects of American culture sports are. The converse is true as well, like it or not.READ MORE: Stimulus Check Latest: Is A Fourth Relief Payment Coming?
Sports are political. Every league you watch every waking day intersects with myriad societal issues, including race, gender, sexuality and class. Your opinion of Cam Newton, a collective bargaining agreement, the tributes to the late Pat Summitt — all are political. Wanting your sports and politics separate isn’t possible.
In Richard Deitsch’s usual sports media piece this week in Sports Illustrated, he asked a panel of prominent sports writers/talkers about how much sports media members should talk politics publicly, if at all. Of the panelists, ESPN’s Jemele Hill and Bomani Jones best articulated how “politics” is a nuanced term, and they both were mostly in favor of sports media approaching societal issues. The opposite of this stance (in more ways than one) is ESPN’s Adam Schefter, whom Deadspin’s Barry Petchesky took to task for some pretty obtuse thoughts in Deitsch’s piece.
A media outlet like ESPN has standards for its employees speaking about candidates for office, which is understandable. (Note: If CBS Chicago has them, they haven’t imposed them on this prole, which is either very freeing of them or just shows how little I matter.) There are FCC rules of equal time for candidates, ad sponsorship issues, etc. that an Adam Schefter pledging allegiance to Kodos could compromise (but that wasn’t really Deitsch’s point of the piece or the specific context of “politics”). Plus, millions of sports fans beg and scream for sports media to “stick to sports” whenever those fans are confronted with the reality that we’re not drones and that sports is politics.
It’s understandable if a sports writer or pundit abstains from wasting breath on, say, whatever Curt Schilling’s next red, sweaty bigoted rant will be. Schilling is that unique form of mutant who seems to only get stronger the more he is proved illogical.
But what about when electoral politics actually rubs up against sports? Like if a major party presidential candidate has chosen to line up sports figures to speak glowingly of him? Is any commentary on that still off limits to even the staunchest sports-politics media separatists?
Some news from the Donald Trump presidential campaign that abuts the sporting world came out Tuesday. First, it was reported by Bloomberg that, “Donald Trump’s campaign aides are lining up a slate of iconic sports figures to appear at the (GOP) convention in Cleveland next month — including former undisputed world heavyweight champion Mike Tyson, legendary Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka, former Indiana University basketball coach Bobby Knight …”
Celebrity endorsements are nothing new and not usually all that interesting, except when those celebrities themselves are associated with controversy. Of those three names, Ditka is probably the least head-scratching. An unabashed schill for any product that will cut him a check, Ditka fits right in with the world of money-grubbing politics. It would be a surprise if Trump, like most, even remember Ditka’s drunk driving charge, and that isn’t a sin the general public puts a lot of stock in anyway. (Heck, in 1985 fans were irate with the State Police for daring to arrest him.)
But as for those other two pro-Trump names?
“Mike Tyson endorsed me, I love it,” Trump said in April. “You know, all the tough guys endorse me. I like that.”
For some reason, Trump caught heat for championing that endorsement. Maybe people still have issues with Tyson’s giant face tattoo. Or maybe it was because Trump said those words in Indianapolis –the city Tyson was arrested in for a rape he was later convicted of.
Shortly after Bloomberg’s report, Trump denied via Twitter that Tyson had been invited to speak at the convention. And we’ve all been denied that bit of political science.
Iron Mike Tyson was not asked to speak at the Convention though I'm sure he would do a good job if he was. The media makes everything up!
Iron Mike Tyson was not asked to speak at the Convention though I'm sure he would do a good job if he was. The media makes everything up!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 29, 2016
Would it be uncouth of me in a position in sports media to bring that up?READ MORE: 1 Killed, 6 Wounded In Weekend Shootings Across Chicago
Speaking of rape, Knight notoriously said in 1988 that, “If rape is inevitable, relax and enjoy it.” Having not learned why that’s a problematic metaphor, he made another one in 2014 believing that college basketball is being “raped” by the NBA. Like Ditka, Knight would make sense being aligned with a campaign because coaches are politicians in many respects and make part of their living either speaking in hollow platitudes that lead to bad large print inspirational books or in the occasional sound bite that gets looped as a gag forever.
Knight has experience with both. When formally endorsing Trump in April, he said: “I just told him I thought that we needed him. That right now, in this moment in time, he was the man who should be in charge. He should be the guy that can get us back to where we want to be.”
Eloquent in its vapidity. Also, Knight has a long history of violence toward players and others on and off the court. Can I talk about that? May I get political in that regard?
What about more sports and rape stuff? Also on Tuesday, Trump hired Vincent Harris, who heads a firm that specializes in digital operations and strategies. Whatever, right?
Well, Harris is also the guy behind the tone deaf “Thank Ken Starr” campaign. That followed Starr no longer being president at Baylor University, which followed news of a disgusting rape culture at Baylor involving the football team and willful ignorance, if not victim sabotaging, by the coaching staff and school brass like Starr.
Harris wrote a piece a month ago asking that we allow yet another man in a position of power to maintain that position after actively ignoring issues of violence against women, in this case female students for whom he supposedly had a duty to provide a safe environment.
Perhaps Starr’s biggest achievements so far have been with the student body. Students rave about having a president on campus that can be routinely seen walking up Fountain Mall or sharing a float during Dr Pepper Hour. Pictures in The Lariat and Baylor Magazine often show Starr rushing the football field, a favorite activity of his, with the freshman “Baylor Line.”
Don’t get me wrong: There are undoubtedly problems at Baylor concerning the athletic department and its handling of sexual assault reports. But these are intricate, discrete and complex issues over which we have no reason to believe Starr acted in any manner that would require his dismissal. In fact, available evidence shows a concerned Starr who has demanded answers, shown transparency and held countless meetings with students to address the serious issue of sexual assault. It is simply untrue to say that Ken Starr “knew” about issues and did nothing.
Is hiring a rape apologist who puts Dr. Pepper floats and running on the football field over the safety of college women the kind of politics I shouldn’t broach?
Who’s next to attach to the Trump Train? Riding the mini-wave of re-popularity of Lenny Dykstra? Am I allowed to speculate?
So if a media member thinks sports and politics are entirely separate and never the twain should meet, let’s consider what is then being condoned with such intentional silence. At what point would a basic sense of humanity require even the least outwardly partisan of sports media to mention a presidential candidate associating with some of sports’ most questionable endorsements?
To quote Trump when he bizarrely mentioned “bringing back” another sports-and-rape figure, the very dead Joe Paterno, “How about that whole deal?”MORE NEWS: Father Christopher Ciomek, Pastor Of St. Peter Damian Parish In Bartlett, Removed Amid 30-Year-Old Child Sex Abuse Claims
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.