In the 1990’s, Harvey Gantt was an aspiring black, Democratic politician in North Carolina who decided to run against incumbent Republican Jesse Helms. He sought out the endorsement of North Carolina’s most favorite son at the time and face of the NBA, Michael Jordan, for an endorsement as “one black man to another.” Michael Jordan refused with this immortal line: “Republicans buy sneakers too.” At the time, Jordan had lucrative deals with Nike, McDonald’s and a host of other corporate sponsors. The man singularly popularized the NBA with middle America. According to his detractors, his was a case of “racial avoidance” rather than “racial transcendence.”
Times have changed. Colin Kaepernick, the former unemployed San Francisco 49ers quarterback- became the face of Nike’s 30th anniversary campaign. It was not because of what he achieved on the field, but because of his kneeling or refusing to stand during the playing of the National Anthem. Today’s corporations do not care about achievement on the playing field, but one’s adherence to the drivel from the likes of Black Lives Matter and other social justice warriors. Today’s corporations are “woke.” And his influence extends beyond the NFL. When interim US gymnastics president Mary Bono tweeted out against the Kaepernick/Nike campaign, black gymnast Simone Biles protested and Bono was fired.
At the 2018 Amnesty International Awards, Kaepernick had this to say:
American police officers continue to terrorize black and brown communities, abusing their power, and then hide behind their blue wall of silence. Laws allow for them to kill us with virtual impunity.
The divisive rhetoric of Kaepernick places him in direct opposition to the reality of a Michael Jordan. And facts.
Some have criticized President Trump for wading into this issue of NFL stars kneeling or sitting during the National Anthem. He faces the opposition of not only overpaid athletes, but also corporate America. ESPN gave a voice to Jemele Hill who called out Trump and accused him of being a white supremacist. They ran many stories on the University of Missouri’s football team threatening to go on strike because of an alleged swastika drawn in excrement on a college dorm room.
This prompted long time sports analyst Clay Travis (a long time apparently “unwoke Democrat) to pen these words:
In over ten years of writing and talking about sports, I’d never given much thought to how politics impacted sports stories before the Missouri protests, but this story gave me pause. Why were so many in the sports media unwilling to call out the absurdity of the Missouri football team’s actions? Hell, why was their legendary coach not able to stop the protest from spreading? What was going on here?
That’s when it hit me. The sports media covering Missouri—and the head coach of the football team as well—were afraid of calling out the stupidity of the protest because they were afraid they’d be called racist if they didn’t support a black protest on campus.
This wasn’t about right or wrong; it was about white men being afraid of being publicly branded as racists.
After saying (in a book) those words, Politico branded him a darling of the alt-right. Media Matters called him a “racist conspiracy theorist.” This from a man whose website has as its stated goal: “Make sports great again.”
In the 2019 NFL draft, Nick Bosa was picked #2 overall out of Ohio State. The New York Times profiled Bosa with this headline: “Nick Bosa Comes With the Kind of Baggage That Doesn’t Matter.” And what is that baggage? In earlier tweets, he referred to Beyonce’s music as “trash.” He said that “Black Panther” was the worst Marvel movie ever. He made statements in support of President Trump. He called Saint Colin Kaepernick “a clown.” The title of the headline is a misnomer because this is the sort of “baggage” that DOES count when it comes to an obviously gifted player.
Compare this with the treatment Kyle Korver, a white player in a sport dominated by blacks- the NBA-, when he said:
When it comes to racism in America, I think that guilt and responsibility tend to be seen as more or less the same thing. But I’m beginning to understand how there’s a real difference. As white people, are we guilty of the sins of our forefathers? No, I don’t think so. But are we responsible for them? Yes, I believe we are.
The same New York Times praised Korver for his remarks and lauded him as a white player speaking out against racism and white privilege in a sport that is only 8% white. Korver is saying he plays in the NBA only because of white privilege. Korver rails against white privilege in a sport dominated by black athletes. Talk about groveling at the fountain of righteous virtue!
Clay Travis was having none of it tweeting out: “Kyle Korver’s white privilege piece just furthers the pyramid of victimization. Fact [that] media praised him is evidence of far left wing bias in sports.”
Truer words have never been spoken.
Racial politics has invaded and corrupted professional sports. Sports journalism today has been politicized. One college that tracks examples of racism in sports said the incidents cataloged increased in 2018. Yet, when one reads those examples, many (most) apply to fans, not teams. For example, they cited fans at the 2018 World Cup calling black players on the French team racial names. ESPN lauded the 50th anniversary of black athletes giving the black power salute when awarded medals at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. Championship teams now boycott White House visits fearing a photo with the resident White Supremacist-in-Chief. LeBron James- the new face of the NBA- now uses his name as a means to criticize the Trump administration.
Instead of realizing that Republicans buy sneakers and watch sports also, today’s stars do not care as long as they have a more-than-willing media to back up their apparent awakening. Athletes, just as Hollywood stars, are paid to entertain. They would be well-advised to stick to that rather than wade into racial politics. They need to heed the words, lesson and example of a true sports hero like Michael Jordan.