More on politics and sports, thank you, President Trump

Politics and sports are often bedfellows. The positive side may see sport playing a role in diplomacy for nations at war (e.g., the Olympic Games or Nelson Mandela’s declaration of sports serving as a tool to change the world). The negative side addresses manipulation and greed to circumvent rules or create partisan views.

Historically, U.S. Presidents have demonstrated varying degrees of entwining politics and sport. In 1905, Teddy Roosevelt vocalized concerns over catastrophic injuries in collegiate football, which led to the establishment of the modern NCAA. In 1980, Jimmy Carter expressed disdain over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which led a massive boycott of the Moscow Olympics. George W. Bush previously owned the Texas Rangers and William Howard Taft started the tradition of throwing out the first pitch to open the MLB season. Bill Clinton simply played a lot of golf and Barack Obama liked to fill out a NCAA hoops bracket every year during tournament time.

Then comes President Donald Trump.

Some may recall that when President Trump, the business tycoon, was owner of the New Jersey Generals in the now-defunct USFL, he once was quoted as stating “If God wanted football in the spring, he wouldn’t have created baseball.” His intent was to influence the other USFL owners to move games to a fall schedule in direct competition with the NFL. The outcome was that the league, even with Doug Flutie and other star players in its lineup, folded before a season of fall competition.

Today, the outspoken president has had a field day ensuring politics continue to be closely entwined with American sports, with his criticism of NFL players who choose to take a knee during the national anthem and his announcement to rescind​ the annual White House invitation the NBA World Champion Golden State Warriors. One of the most sensationalized sport stories this fall has centered on reactions to Trump’s not-so-presidential statements encouraging NFL owners to fire anyone who decides to take a knee during the Star Spangled Banner.

From one perspective, patriotism by virtue of glorifying America and honoring the sacrifices of the military before almost every professional or amateur sport contest ranks higher than the actions of a few who select to raise a fist or kneel during the pre-game tradition. President Trump clearly has expressed that these actions are disrespectful, inappropriate, and unpatriotic. On the other hand, others assert that these actions, which are trickling down to every level of every sport, are extremely patriotic and appropriate in the sense that players are choosing to stand up (metaphorically) for their beliefs to raise awareness of systematic social inequality, racial stereotyping, and police misconduct. Regardless of opinions on the silent protests continuing to rage across American sport fields, Colin Kaepernick has cemented a place in NFL history.

So has Donald Trump.

Of course, the microcosm created by the real (or fake) media outlets to over-sensationalize any and everything Trump says certainly has added to an atmosphere of supercharged and often divided emotions. Trump’s power and arrogance makes a story about the NFL seem almost as important as the North Korea political saga threatening world peace.

Sports, it seems, are serving as a tool for mass communication as opposed to an inherently wholesome physical activity. Then again, the mission of professional sports is often to serve as entertainment. Certainly, President Trump has entertained in his constant dwelling into sectors of American affairs which most Presidents have only danced around with relative courtesy and respect.

It’s hard to predict what the current President of the United States will do or say or tweet about future sport affairs, whether targeting the recent NCAA-Adidas-basketball corruption scandal or another controversial issue. It is understandable that more than a handful of sport-enthusiasts are perplexed with the unpredictable nature of a president who is vowing to make America “great again” by virtue of a resurgence of the country’s economy, but in the same breadth, is badmouthing an onslaught of professional athletes evoking their constitutional rights.

President Trump did have extremely ​positive remarks to share about the Olympics coming back to the USA in 2028 including that the bid seemed to demonstrate the best in American creativity, innovation, and hospitality. It’s always a positive sign to have the support of a politically polarizing figure for U.S. affairs that will reach a global audience.

Seems America is now sort of just waiting for the next time Donald Trump’s vocal opinions will blow up on social media and stir controversy in the sports arena. It will happen, probably sooner than later. Lest anyone forgets, America is not the only country with a leader who has a few unforgiving traits and a fondness for keeping sports and politics part of everyday pop culture. Just ask Dennis Rodman or his old North Korean friend, Kim Jong-un.

Bonnie Tiell is a professor of sports management at Tiffin University.

COMMENTS