In an era where sports and politics are becoming increasingly intertwined, many have called out sports writers and broadcasters for expressing their opinions of the current state of American politics, telling them to “stick to sports.” However, the idea that anyone in the sports media should strictly “stick to sports” is wrong. Even if one believes the two subject matters should be discussed separately, the age of sticking to sports is already over.
Last year, ESPN sent a memo to its entire on-air and print media, urging them to avoid any discussion of politics. Of course, several disobeyed, instead choosing to use their voice to express their political frustration. Whether or not they are right or wrong, the fact that ESPN felt the need to send its employees a memo said enough.
Nowhere in the job description of a sports writer or broadcaster does it say they must stick to sports. That would be cynical, as anyone that knows anything about sports knows the impact politics has on professional and collegiate sports.
Every stadium finance deal is political. When the Los Angeles Chargers were attempting to build a new stadium in San Diego, the debate was whether the public should have to foot the bill. Does a new stadium actually benefit a city’s economy as much as the owner says it will? Are millions of taxpayer dollars’ worth the sentimental value it gives the culture of the city?
Major college sports have become political. Is the NCAA stealing out of the pockets of hard-working student athletes? Should the NCAA be allowed to call itself a non-profit?
When 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick made the bold decision to protest the political establishment by kneeling during the National Anthem last NFL season, it became the hottest topic in sports almost immediately. So should writers choose to stick to sports and ignore this story? As we all know, that would be utterly ridiculous. Kaepernick chose to use his voice as a professional athlete. If Colin Cowherd or Bill Simmons went to work the next day and decided this topic was too controversial or too closely related to politics, their coworkers would look at them in shock.
These are the types of topics that cannot be avoided, no matter how hard one attempts to stick to sports. Truthfully, if any writer decided to stay away from these topics in an effort to avoid any discussion of politics, they would be doing their job the wrong way.
However, there must be a balance between sports and politics. The worst thing a sports writer could do would be to oversaturate his work with politics. Some have made it a point to go out of their way to criticize President Donald J. Trump, almost as if they are waking up each day looking for something to be angry about.
The Ringer’s Brian Curtis said it best: “A sportswriter doesn’t have to ‘stick to sports’ if the athletes don’t.”
In an age where athlete empowerment is being emphasized more than ever, more and more athletes are speaking out. If Steve Kerr, the coach of the most talked about team in professional sports in the Golden State Warriors, is going to go out of his way after a game to give a statement advocating against Trump’s travel ban, you had better believe every sports writer in America is going to talk about it.
It can be easy to forget how significant the relationship between sports and politics is. The idea that sports can exist in a bubble completely unattached to the rest of culture is unrealistic. No matter what your opinion of that relationship may be, they will still play the National Anthem before each game. And when someone tells a sportswriter to stick to sports, they must remind themselves that it’s impossible to keep politics out of sports, because sports have always been, and will always be, political.
Andrew Lombardo is a journalism major from Middletown, Conn. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @anlombardo8.