“Stick to sports!”
This is a saying that I have heard my entire life. This year, however, it seems to be more prevalent. I am not sure if it is the 24-hour news cycle, or the “controversial” protest by Colin Kaepernick, but I seem to hear that phrase about once a day. What troubles me about the phrase is that it seems very dismissive and it devalues athletes and their roles in our society.
This saying seems to be used when an athlete voice his or her opinion about something that is taking place in our country, and to a lesser extent the world.
I started hearing this more often around the same time that San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick chose to take a knee during the national anthem during a third preseason game. The interesting is that he started the protest two weeks earlier during the 49ers opening preseason game (in which no one noticed.) Once the protest was recognized nation wide, the venom that I heard here in Charlotte was immediate and vast. As a consumer of sports talk radio, I heard it every day. The more I heard it the more I began thinking about the phrase deeper. I couldn’t just dismiss it as a throw away saying.
At an almost parallel time, we had one of the most vitriolic Presidential elections of all time. As the campaign season picked up steam it seemed almost daily that a microphone was thrown into the face of a politician, actor or athlete asking their thoughts on what was transpiring in the country. Of course, this led to more scrutiny on those who spoke out. The one that is closest to me is “stick to sports”
What does it mean when people say, “Stick to sports?” The way I take it (which I realize may not be everyone’s feeling) is to shut up and go entertain us. Stay out of our business and do what you animals are paid to do. I realize that this may be harsh, but that is the visceral feeling that I get whenever I hear the term. Should athletes only talk about last night’s game, or the 5 game road trip that they are about to embark on? Should they give the press and the consumer the normal clichéd answers and move on to the next city? Are athletes really viewed as disposable commodities that have no say in what happens in the country they live? Is the old adage “dumb jock” still a thing? If that indeed is the case, why is it?
I believe there are a few answers to that question. First and foremost, I think there are people that see professional athletes as people that have more money than they can ever imagine and therefore do not have the same problems and issues as common folks. Secondly, there are people that do not believe that an athlete can possibly be smart enough to have an intelligent opinion, therefore rendering their opinions nonsensical from the outset. Lastly, I believe that race plays a part in it as well. As much as people do not like to talk about it or act like it doesn’t exist, it does and it shapes our opinion daily. Right or wrong, it is an issue that affects millions of Americans minute-by-minute, day-by-day and year-by-year.
Lets tackle these in order. First, the money issue; just because you make a lot of money playing a sport doesn’t exclude you from every day problems and issues that plague us all. Grant it, they may have some issues that money can help with, but being an American is not one of them.
We ALL live in this country together, and ALL have a say in how it is run. Take the issue with Kaepernick, he was protesting how African Americans are treated in this country. He has every right to do that. Just because he gets a check every week from the NFL, does not mean he loses his voice. If he is passionate about something and chooses to protest, that is his right, just like it is the right of every other American. People have died for that right, and people quickly want to strip him of his right to be an American. It shows incredible ignorance to belittle someone for utilizing the rights that we have all been afforded. You may not have liked the method in which he did it, but he may not like the way you balance your checkbook. How would you feel if someone came into your workplace every day and criticized you for how you chose to do something? The double standard I find incredibly insulting. Take North Carolina for example, and the HB2 bill; People want to write it off as the “bathroom bill” but in actuality it is much deeper than that. There are people that want to openly discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation and they will scream to the mountaintops that it is their “right” but Kaepernick he doesn’t have the right to kneel during the national anthem. People sure hate looking in the mirror!
National darling, Stephen Curry came under some heat when his comment about Donald Trump hit the internet (no one reads newspapers anymore, SAD.) I immediately heard “He is disrespecting our President” or “What does he know anyway?” The first place that my brain went was, birth certificate. My mind went there because for eight years people claimed that Barack Obama was not an American, that he was a Muslim aiming to destroy America, spearheaded by our current President. Was that not disrespectful? It is very interesting to see this dynamic in action. Things that we agree with can never been seen as wrong, and the things we do not agree with immediately are shot down and discredited. More recently, several New England Patriot players have declined to accept their invitation to the White House. Again, that is their right. People quickly labeled them as un-American. I believe most people that watched this years fantastic come back during the Super Bowl never once labeled Tom (Captain America) Brady as un-American. Mr. Brady however, chose not to join his teammates at the White House in 2015. He instead claimed to have a previous commitment. Now, he has not committed one way or another this season, but since he is a “friend” of Mr. Trump, one may surmise that he will push all other commitments to the side. It is absolutely Mr. Brady’s choice to go or not to go, and just the same, it is the right of some of his Patriot teammates not to attend. SIMPLE.
The second rational that I came up with is that athletes are not smart enough have intelligent thoughts about what is going on in this country or the world. That is, in my opinion, a very dated and childish rational. Why do people still believe that athletes are dumb? They are a microcosm of our society as a whole, a subculture if you will. Just like walking down Wall Street in New York, there are some incredibly bright people, and intertwined there are some that are not so bright. That being said, it is incredibly unfair to paint athletes with a broad brush as dumb. Has anyone ever seen an NFL playbook? Has anyone ever taken the time to see what some athletes do outside of their given sports? There are currently two online blog/article sites that are penned by current and former professional athletes from all sports. The Bennett brothers, while tremendous football players, have incredible interests outside of football. One of the most talented people that I know is Bryan Scott, is a 10 year veteran of the NFL. The thing is, he is so much more than just a football player. He is a tremendous musician that can also sing with the best of them. There is no way I could ever call him a dumb jock. He also has a degree from Penn State and is incredibly bright. That is just one example, but I know plenty of professional athletes that are incredibly smart.
Finally, race, this is something that a lot of people do not like to talk about. Therefore, it is easily passed off as something that is non-existent. I could go on for days about that topic, but this is not the crux of this piece. It is however a part of the discussion. There are people, and I can never say all, but there are those that believe that a black, or Latin athlete should stay in their place as a second-class citizen. This is terribly sad, but is terribly prominent. In the year 2017 it seems like this thought process has not eased at all. I remember growing up hearing people referring to black athletes as not smart enough to be a quarterback, or a black athlete was not capable of leading a team to success. The interesting thing about this thought process, is that the locker room is one of the more progressive environments. While still a microcosm of our society, it acts and reacts to social issues at a much more rapid pace.
I wish society could take a cue from our professional athletes and start to really understand that we are all different and unique. This doesn’t make one better than the other, just different. My father once told me something during a discussion about politics that has continued to resonate with me. He reminded me that we all have different views and different experiences and to try and look at things through someone else’s lens to get a glimpse at why they feel certain ways. That is a very powerful message and one that can give us all perspective.
Until next time,
E. Scott 23