“Stick to sports” is dead. Long live “stick to politics and do sports in your spare time.”
On an otherwise peaceful Monday, we discovered that Duke’s second-round loss to South Carolina is being blamed in part on North Carolina’s controversial law SB 2, which caused the East Regional first round to be moved from Greensboro, N.C. to Greenville, S.C., thereby giving South Carolina a home-court advantage (and Duke a disadvantage) it should not have otherwise had.
The argument is nonsense given that South Carolina clearly played the superior game, but it is made nonetheless because politics.
Then Denver Broncos executive John Elway, using his own letterhead, endorsed and urged senators to approve Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. I wonder how many “stick to sports” admonitions he received.
And then Spike Lee claimed that a fulminating conspiracy exists keeping Colin Kaepernick out of the NFL, presumably because he didn’t slavishly and unthinkingly honor the National Anthem by standing like a robot and thinking of anything that came to his head during its playing.
Frankly, next to these little week-starters, the continued sniveling over whether Oklahoma City has expressed enough love to Kevin Durant is an embarrassment to all readers everywhere.
In fact, it is an embarrassment anyway. We have been flogging this idiocy for eight months now, and we show no signs of leaving it alone. Frankly, if this is the alternative, give me politics every time.
But we digress. Now that we have the most polarizing President in history (with the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln, with whom Donald Trump will never be compared) to reflect the most polarized United States there has been since the Civil War, it is not only normal but almost required that politics be part of the daily sports menu.
Fewer and fewer sporting figures, from owners on down the organizational chart, are reluctant to air their politics in public. They believe, correctly if you’re one of those constitutional junkies who believes the amendments were put there for a reason, that as citizens they get to speak up when the mood strikes them, and that even silence can be a political statement.
In that way, they reflect us as a nation as they are supposed to, and we are not handling these days well at all. Everyone has an opinion, that opinion needs to be shouted and disseminated to strangers without the strangers’ input, and the technology makes that more likely to happen than not.
Of course the NCAA gets to decide how it does business as long as it is prepared for the public fallout. Of course John Elway gets to advocate for Supreme Court justices. Of course Spike Lee gets to claim the NFL is deliberately punishing Kaepernick for not being Republican owner-friendly – although Lee strangely decides Kaepernick should be punished on the back end by urging that he go to the New York Jets.
And that’s the new deal, kids. It’s not going away either. In fact, it will get more and more pronounced as time goes on because the United States is filled with aggrieved people with the power to pipe up and a disinclination to pipe down.
Is this good? Who the hell knows? It irritates people, which the main goal of communication in 21st century America, which probably isn’t sustainable in the long run. It also breaks down the hypocritical taboo of sports figures not involving themselves in politics when athletes and management people have run for office and contributed to candidates for decades, which clearly makes it sustainable.
In other words, the problem here isn’t Duke/South Carolina, or John Elway, or Spike Lee. The problem here is us and our new definition of political discourse, which is a vat of pure boomslang venom with a side of Serbia-v.-Croatia tribal politics. Taking a side doesn’t make you new friends, it makes you new enemies, and in a world in which it is easier than ever to be an enemy (on the internet, you don’t even have to be present or give your real name, that’s how easy it is), ideas like team-building and fan support become more difficult propositions.
But that’s who we are now, which means that’s what sports has to be now. We are not separate from how we converse with each other, which is why “stick to sports” is now more of a fraud than ever.
Except for Spike Lee trying to put Colin Kaepernick on the New York Jets. That, given the tenor of the time, may classify as a war crime.