I talk about this topic with any of my friends who are brave enough to get me started, and I actually researched it for an entire honors final last semester. This is probably my favorite discussion — or sometimes, debate — to have with anyone, and there’s no better time than now.
Sports and politics have always been and always will be intertwined. To ignore this fact is to ignore the sheer importance and influence that sports have always held both nationally and internationally.
I’m writing this column because I think sports fans, and Americans as a whole, need this reminder. The NBA and WNBA both struck Aug. 26-27, and multiple MLB teams joined in. The NHL’s strike came on Aug. 27 with isolated postponements still happening. Tennis star Naomi Osaka announced she wouldn’t play her semifinal in the U.S. Open. These all began in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, following the Aug. 23 shooting of Jacob Blake by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
And on every tweet, post and update you can find, replies are flooded with comments along the lines of “Get politics out of sports,” “Stick to your game,” and “I watch sports for an escape from all this.”
Here’s the thing — there simply is no “get politics out of sports.” To remove the social commentary that exists within sports is to divide the two in a way they have never been before.
For example, take a look at El Clásico, a soccer matchup which is hailed as one of the greatest and fiercest rivalries in all of sports. The rivalry exists between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid due to Spanish Civil War tensions between the Catalans in Barcelona and the Spanish nationalists in the capital. Politics don’t just show up as a fleeting afterthought in sports — they’re often what create their history.
International soccer might be one of the best examples of the overlap with sports and politics, but it has also been a prevalent combination in the United States. Jackie Robinson started the desegregation of Major League Baseball almost 20 years before the Civil Rights Act was passed. Legendary boxer Muhammad Ali was arrested in 1967 after dodging the draft in protest of the Vietnam War.
Loyola fans can even look to their own men’s basketball history for an example of the influence of sports on society. The Ramblers broke the NCAA racial barrier with the 1963 “Game of Change” when they chose to have four Black players in their starting lineup when the unspoken agreement was only two or three.
The Mississippi State team snuck out to play Loyola against the Mississippi governor’s orders, and the NCAA was changed forever.
Not only does a hypothetical disconnect between current events and sports ignore their strongly connected history, it also ignores the fact athletes are people, too. They aren’t robots who run around for our enjoyment a few hours a night. They see injustices that affect them and those they care about, and they want to speak out. They should be able to be human without fear of fan retaliation.
To be able to ignore the politics within sports reflects an ability to ignore politics overall — which comes from an immense place of privilege. We should be using these Black Lives Matter strikes to show us how this change is so necessary that our professional athletes are willing to risk fanbases to make their voices heard. If we care about them when we watch their games, we should care about their lives out of the spotlight, as well.
The connection between sports and politics has been here and is here to stay. If you consider yourself a big fan and you haven’t noticed, it’s time to wake up.