The political hysteria engulfing our society is no longer restricted to news broadcast, as politics slowly creep into entertainment. For years, Hollywood productions incorporated political messaging in our movies and television shows. Many held out hope that some forms of entertainment would remain solely entertainment. Unfortunately, important social institutions no longer provide the escape from reality as in the past.
For many, sports provides a needed departure from reality. A separation from the challenges of everyday life. For a 3 to 4 hour period, one can set aside worries of responsibilities, work related stress, family issues, or other challenges to route for their team to victory. No matter the day or situation, a victory by one’s team can brighten up the day, even for a minimal period of time.
Professional sports typically served as a unifying force, bring people of all backgrounds together. This phenomenon played out a local sports bar, when one patron accidentally spilled his drink on another, but the situation defused upon realization of routing for the same team. Leading to the two splitting the next round and an order of wings.
As our society continues to get divided by political hysteria and hypersensitivity, it is no surprise that politics crept into the sports world. After controversial incidents involving police officers, NFL QB Colin Kaepernick began a trend of kneeling during our national anthem, which many perceive as unpatriotic. Although Kaepernick is not actively in the NFL at the moment, other players copied the controversial behavior.
The controversy sparked once again when President Trump referenced the NFL player protest, while speaking at a campaign rally in Alabama. As one would expect, players, coaches, team owners, and the NFL had strong reactions. Some joined in on the divisive protest, while many others took the higher road, demonstrating acts of unity. During the Monday Night Football game, fans let the NFL know how they felt about the act, booing heavily when the Cowboys took a knee. Not during the anthem.
The divisive protest is hitting our nation’s largest and most popular sports league where it matters most. For a second year in a row, ratings for NFL games are down. Based on an SI poll, the player protest play a large role in driving people away from the game. As the league depends heavily on television revenue, the league will need to find a way to balance player social activity with retaining fan support.
Despite being able to perform with robotic precision, athletes are human beings with human emotions. Our sports stars are not completely shielded from the social problems occurring in our society. Many grew up in challenging environments, succeeding where many ultimately fail. Now with the ability to bring awareness, socially conscious athletes seek to address social issues they faced or problems plaguing close friends, family members, or people they encounter.
Athletes should be socially active in the communities. Since sports stars possess the finances, notoriety, and access, they can help those who seek to solve our nation’s challenges. Many athletes do great work uplifting communities and inspiring the next generation. The challenge is choosing the right forum, the right message, and the right delivery to promote change and actually start that national conversation.
There are claims stating that change hurts and the pain is needed to make progress. But, much of that is strategic flaw of the messengers. The mistakes in delivery created strong negative emotions that serve as barriers for discussing a truly important cause. Although athletes state they had no intent of disrespecting our nation or those that served our country, the action speaks for itself. Kneeling or sitting for our national anthem, or any other nation’s anthem, is disrespectful.
In the past, the public found out the NFL’s “Salute to Service” campaign was not done out of the love of country, but for the advertising revenue provided by our armed services. Combined with the constant litigation against its own players, controversy surrounding concussions and player safety, the NFL has a branding issue to deal with. But, that is why the NFL pays Roger Goodell all that money.
Many leagues understand the importance of being social active, but needs to avoid being overtly political. Fans watch and attend games to take a time out from everyday life. Many athletes are able to be socially active without bombarding the public with political messaging. Whether it is fostering opportunities for people to talk out issues and compromise or donating time or money to groups that actually work the channels to make the difference, many athletes find the right forum, right message, and right delivery.
Many people are politically averse, especially after the close, shocking, and divisive contest in November. As a result, there are large groups of people that will tune out given any presence of political messaging. For their sake and ours, hopefully sports can return to be the needed escape for our society.