Week 7: PolitiSports

“Keep your head down and only do what you’re supposed to do.” — A phrase probably only ever uttered by those in fear or those in power, who would most likely only say something like that out of fear of losing that power. In American society, political power ideally rests in the people, but when the people are divided or oppressed, it takes a shift in power to make the system work better. And, in present day America, no realm of life is more popular than the sports world.

In sports, we find stories to follow and characters to root for. Often, individual games or seasons give us allegories for real world struggles. The present day landscape of sports is providing us with an evolving notion of the sports world that blurs the line between allegorical narrative and real life struggle. Of course, athletes in the past have done this — Muhammad Ali, Jackie Robinson, or even the more recent Ibtihaj Muhammad — but now, athletes and sportswriters aren’t waiting for the rare catalyst, instead they’re growing more and more likely to take an initiative in involving themselves in political discussions.

There are overarching trends in American society that could hint at the reason for this — increased political polarization and a younger generation emerging with more liberal political views. As far as polarization goes, it’s affecting all aspects of American life, increasing the ferocity of political opinion being discussed around sports — which causes the “stick to sports” attitudes. The election of Donald Trump has also exacerbated the political commentary across the United States and the sports world has not avoided the phenomenon.

However, the influence of the younger generation on the political conversation around sports is a significant factor. The generation arriving as athletes and sportswriters is of a liberal leaning; the later has a particularly unique contribution to this emerging political-sports world. Athletes have always occupied the role of the younger generation in the sports world while being surrounded by older owners, management, and sportswriters. Since the proliferation of the internet, mainstream media outlets, with entrenched hierarchies, have lost a considerable share of the narrative around sports — giving way to newer internet-based forms of media that project the voice of a much younger and much more diverse generation.

As well as creating a younger and more diverse group of storytellers around sports, the internet has also created a form of business that is not beholden to heads of corporation. In effect, sportswriters now have little reason to worry about injecting political opinions into the stories they write, which also effects sportswriters in entrenched media outlets who need to inject political stances into their own writing if they are to keep up.

There are other potential reasons that the sports world is becoming more political — particularly audience taste; it’s no longer cool to not speak up when fans throw racial slurs at players or a president tries to ban groups of people from the country, or if a sportswriter sticks to sports, they’re mostly just ignored. And, that’s because it is sports; the actions of the president that fly in the face of the constitution affect the athletes, the sportswriters, the audience, and everyone’s friends and families.

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