I want you to imagine something. Imagine you see something on the news, you feel strongly about what you saw and you want your opinion out there. So you take to social media or go to the local hangout so you can discuss it and make your opinions heard.
But as you lay out your thoughts and feelings, it falls on deaf ears and whoever you were talking to simply looks at you and says, “Can you just stick to your job please? Shut up and do your job.”
It’s more than likely this would make you really upset. You deserve to have your opinions heard and likely would gladly invite discussion if someone disagreed with you. But you’re robbed of that opportunity because you have no value outside of what you do for a living and that includes your feelings and opinions. You want your thoughts to matter and people to listen.
So why don’t we do that with athletes?
Now before I go any further and you send me angry emails and phone calls about siding with them during the kneeling, that is not the point of this column. I am not going to take a side here and I will not try to sway anyone off theirs regarding the kneeling because to be frank, if you have picked a side on this issue then you’re not moving off it.
I am simply saying that when athletes want to discuss politics, let’s not just tune them out because they’re professional athletes. They live in the same country that we do and they deserve to have their thoughts and opinions listened to and respected.
The important distinction in this act is not confusing respect with agreement. It is entirely possible to disagree with someone but still hear them out. The fact that we just tune athletes out and tell them “just stick to sports,” is eliminating a conversation before it can begin let alone be respected.
Now this is harder to do with something like the kneeling protests as it is unlikely you will respect something you find inherently disrespectful. What I am talking about is the less-radical means of political discussion. On social media whenever they try to defend a certain point of view, you can be guaranteed the comment and reply section will be littered with “stick to sports.”
If you were an accountant, imagine being told that you weren’t allowed to have opinions and you should just “stick to accounting.” It sounds ridiculous right?
The reason we do it with athletes is because for many, if not all, sports is a means of escaping from the politics and current events. It’s one of the reasons I love sports but just because it’s an escape for us doesn’t mean the players have to sacrifice their own opinions just to appease us.
Particularly when politics won’t stick to politics and constantly seeps into sports. The oddity of sports is it, at times, reflects societal importance. Iconic moments like Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their fists during the 1968 Olympics, the Miracle on Ice embodying the Cold War or Jesse Owens winning four gold medals in front of Hitler during the 1936 Olympics.
These moments all show politics and sports will inevitably collide from time to time so to expect those involved to stay away from it, it’s not just unfair but also close to impossible.
It is also worth noting, if you’re telling an athlete to stick to sports, you’re more likely than not really saying, “I disagree with you and therefore you need to shut up.”
No one told J.J. Watt to stick to sports when he raised $37 million for Hurricane Harvey relief or when a Michigan State basketball player befriends a child with cancer. Why weren’t they told to stick to sports or shut and play then?
Because it was something that was widely supported. The second they put something out there that you disagree with then their opinion is moot and they should stick to their profession.
So I’m not saying you have to agree to what they’re saying should an athlete decide to make their voice heard but I am saying you should listen to what they have to say because bringing in another perspective is nearly a universally good thing.
Just remember that athletes are not just people on your television for entertainment. That is their profession but that does not define them. So when an athlete says something you don’t agree with, at least hear them out instead of telling them to stick to sports.
Tad Desai covers sports and education for The Sealy News. He can be reached at 979-885-3562 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.