I am a gigantic sports fan – possibly the biggest one you know. I love sports so much and know so many obscure sports facts that I literally appeared on the sports version of “Jeopardy” last February. So, as you’d expect, I was very excited going into last Sunday’s Super Bowl. I was excited to see if the high-flying Atlanta Falcons could cap off an outstanding year, both for themselves and for the city of Atlanta, by bringing the ATL its first Super Bowl title. I was ready to see MVP Matt Ryan continue his torrid streak of efficiency, Julio Jones make catches only he can make because he isn’t a human and the fast, young defense harass Tom Brady into making poor decisions.
However, nestled among all the traditional pre-Super Bowl storylines leading up to the game were constant tweets and Facebook posts from both my friends and others I follow about how they were supporting the Falcons because of Donald Trump’s ties to New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady. During the game itself, the way some wrote about the second half of the game, as the Atlanta lead slipped away, made it seem as if they were reliving election night. And, while that was certainly a reason to root against the Patriots (not that I needed another one, as someone who grew up in Buffalo Bills country), the entire conversation made me somewhat uneasy and left me wondering; “Is nothing apolitical anymore?”
The role of politics in sports and non-political culture has been a topic of conversation for quite some time, but the election and subsequent presidency of Trump have ratcheted up the import and intensity of these debates to a whole new level.
I must admit that there is something about bringing electoral politics into the entertainment sphere that makes me uncomfortable. Don’t get me wrong; I’m a huge supporter of athlete activism and have supported the Patriots who are outspoken about not wishing to visit the White House after their victory last Sunday. However, I view much of the speaking out that athletes have been doing recently as forms of social activism, not political activism, and that is a stark difference that should be recognized. Trump’s election shocked and traumatized so many people of different races, genders, nationalities, religions, immigrant status and the like. As a result, so many are constantly affected by his presence as the president that I believe there is a need for “safe spaces” now more than ever. I don’t mean the type of safe spaces where individuals are free from bias, hatred and oppression. I’m talking about environments and parts of our life where we can escape from the moment-to-moment stress of living under the Trump presidency.
The next four years are going to be difficult and if we don’t pace ourselves and find ways to escape, the potential for harm is even greater. I don’t believe music, movies or television are going to be places for those escapes. While in today’s increasingly fragmented world, you can choose the entertainment you consume to stay away from “controversial” topics, more artists and performers of all types are choosing to create politically-tinged works, making it harder to stay apolitical in your entertainment consumption. This leaves sports as one of the very few viable options for politics-free content. There is little that is ostensibly political about most athletic competitions, and at least for the duration of the Trump presidency, I believe it should stay that way. I should be able to root for the Yankees without having to see Facebook posts about Matt Holliday’s and Greg Bird’s political views (those were random Yankee players; I have no idea how or if either of them voted last year).
Of course, there are obvious counter-arguments to my position. Some might say, “I’m a person of color, and my entire existence is inherently a political statement, and as such, I notice political content when it appears and will speak on it, no matter the context.” As a black man, I get it. But shouldn’t there also be places where we can escape and blissfully ignore the realities of the world for several hours at a time? Shouldn’t we, more than most groups of people, want a temporary escape from the stench of politics? I’m as politically oriented of a person as you’ll ever meet – I’ve been an intended political science major since my first day at the College and regularly read political books and online content. Even I have gotten exhausted from the constant barrage of bad news over the past year and regularly need time to “recuperate” from the “injuries” I sustain from being exposed to such personally damaging information on an almost hourly basis. Sports does that for me, and if you like sports, they should be able to for you also.
Mandela Namaste ’19 is from Buffalo, N.Y. He lives in Bryant.