THE NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE JUST GOT POLITICAL,
AND MOST PEOPLE DON'T CARE
When Donald Trump became president of the United States, many sports fanatics like myself began to wonder what it meant for the world of sports. After eight (euphoric) years of Obama, a personable sports fan who shared a mutual admiration with some of the worlds' biggest athletes, it was obvious some things were going to change in terms of how the white house and sports would coincide. Just what would change remained to be seen.
The tradition of sports teams visiting the white house dates back to August 30, 1865, when President Andrew Johnson welcomed the Brooklyn Atlantics and Washington Nationals amateur baseball clubs. It wasn't until Ronal Reagan era in the 1980s that the practise of honouring championship teams at the white house became a regular occurrence. During George W. Bush and Barack Obama's presidencies, about a dozen professional national and major college teams visited the White House each year. However, as soon as Trump became president, the once obvious decision to visiting the White House came into question for many organizations who refuse to stand for Trump's antics.
The NBA has always been an overtly political league, but Stephen Curry is not usually one to speak out or garner attention outside the world of basketball. Since his breakout MVP season in 2014-15, the Warriors point guard has been reluctant to say anything controversial despite what other teammates or coaches have said. But it looks like Curry is finally ready to follow in Lebron's footsteps and speak his mind publicly, stating on Saturday September 23rd that he will vote for the 2017 NBA Champion Warriors not to attend the Trump White House. When asked what was behind the decision, Curry said:
"That we don’t stand for basically what our president has … the things that he’s said and the things that he hasn’t said in the right times, that we won’t stand for it,” Curry said. “And by acting and not going, hopefully that will inspire some change when it comes to what we tolerate in this country and what is accepted and what we turn a blind eye to."
Trump quickly responded by formally (if you consider Twitter formal) uninviting Curry to the White House.
Shortly thereafter, the Warriors released a statement that the entire team has made the decision to not attend the White House, effectively bringing an end to a long tradition of NBA Champions visiting the White House.
But instead of seeing Curry's face all over the news, it's football players dominating political discourse as of late.
The very same weekend, likely in a (successful) attempt to distract citizens from the National Crisis at hand in Puerto Rico, Trump also attacked the National Football League (NFL) for it's stance on players kneeling during the National Anthem, a protest started by (now jobless) quarterback Colin Kaepernick in response to racism and senseless police killings of unarmed African Americans. Trump said:
"Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag [by kneeling during the anthem], say, 'Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he's fired!"
The NFL didn't like that.
The following Sunday the NFL took an unprecedented political stance, with several players and some full teams kneeling, locking arms, or skipping the anthem all together as a sign of solidarity against Trump. Considering that the NFL has historically been the most anti-political sports league, attempting to stay away from any non-football related distractions, the league-wide demonstration was surprising. And the media coverage was polarizing.
Some writers congratulated athletes for their amazing courage and spoke on the immediate and permanent positive change that resulted from this Sunday's actions. Others, like this VICE article titled "Brain-Dead Hucksters Have Hijacked Colin Kaepernick's Protest," were quick to condemn the protest all together because for some it wasn't for the right, true, and original cause.
The truth lies somewhere in the middle.
My initial reaction to the NFL's protest was incredibly positive. For a league that has always tried to stay out of the political spotlight, what football players did was if nothing else a brave stance against the damaged man in charge of America. Considering most of these athletes come from poverty and don't have guaranteed contracts or endorsement deals, any political statement is a ballsy one, one that could get them fired, so the courage it took for nearly the entire league to stand up to Trump was incredible.
Yet I see the other side of the argument too. The side that wonders why it took the league this long and for Trump to say something mean specifically to them to finally unite despite all the injustices that have recently taken place in America. The side that points out that the owners now linking arms with their players and taking a stand against Trump were funding Trumps campaign just months ago, and arguing that for some this is more a move about money and maintaining a good image than it is against protesting racism and police brutality in America. The side that notices Sports Illustrated's new cover featuring Roger Goodell but not Colin Kaepernick, the man who started this entire protest.
Whenever there is revolution, there will always be those who piggyback on the movement for their own personal gain. We have seen that in the NFL. There are owners, people in the media, and even some players who are not protesting for the right reasons. But that doesn't mean this protest is a failure.
Instead, the NFL's reaction to Trump's hate was a continuation of a revolution Kaepernick started one year ago. A revolution that has dominated sports discourse for an entire year and, due to Trump, is finally beginning to dominate political discourse too.