For some people, politics is a very serious issue to address that often creates frustration, as everyone has their own opinions, ideas, and beliefs. On the other hand, sports are considered to be an escape from people’s everyday duties. People watch games that can take up to over five hours without worrying about the outside world. In today’s world, these two seemingly completely contradictory affairs are often brought together, and to many, the question is, “Should sports and politics really be mixed?”
As seen over the past few years, players from different sporting leagues have started to take a stand for what they believe is right, using the field as their political arena. Nonetheless, protesting for what they believe is not necessarily a new innovation. The introduction of the Olympic Games was supposed to bring countries together, allowing them to collaborate as one and build a sense of fraternity with each other. But, this did not turn out to be the case; in the 1968 Summer Olympics, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, two African American medal winning athletes were expelled from the Olympics after they started to protest against racism. Despite being heavily criticized for introducing politics into sports, it is undeniable that these protests impacted the Civil Rights movement heavily. Another notable example is Muhammad Ali, a professional boxer who stood against the Vietnam War early on and refused to serve in the army. As a result of this stance, Ali was banned from boxing events inside the US. Ali became an important face of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements. Not only did these actions draw the attention and scrutiny of the international community, but they also encouraged African Americans to keep pushing towards equality and for their rights.
Recently, more and more professional athletes have started to express their political standpoints not only off the field, but on the field as well. Colin Kapernick and LeBron James are two of the most polarizing athletes in recent time. While the 2016 NFL season was underway, Colin Kapernick started kneeling during the national anthem as a protest against police brutality towards African-Americans and racial inequality in the United States. Kapernick, one of the first and most high-profile protesters, stated, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” This simple action of kneeling inspired others to follow Kapernick’s actions and protest for what they think is right. President Donald Trump declared these actions to be unpatriotic and disrespectful to not only the United States Flag, but also to the military. The national anthem is often considered a source of pride and patriotism towards the country, but following the actions of Colin Kapernick, more players from leagues around the country have been kneeling whilst the anthem plays. This is to show that everyone needs to be equal, appreciated, and treated the same way. Reb Yaakov Boyd, a Jewish History teacher at Scheck Hillel, provides his thoughts on these incidents. “All of America benefits from the incredible contributions of people of color. Sometimes it’s important to stop and think about the situations of others, particularly people of color, in our society.” More recently, LeBron James, a three time NBA champion was told to “shut up and dribble” following his comments on racism. Today, James is one of the leaders in the Black Lives Matter movement, influencing others to stand for racial equality.
In 2020, the Black Lives Matter movement has empowered all of America to stand up against police brutality and racial injustice. Following the murder of George Floyd, the African-American communtiy was in disbelief. Athletes from all around the world attended protests, and when it was time to go back to sports, tributes for all those killed took over leagues across America and Europe. When the US Open 2020 arrived, 2018 US Open Champion Naomi Osaka decided to pay tribute to six of the lost lives in each of her matches. Each match, she came with a different name on her mask; some of these included Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Elijah Mcclain. In the NBA Bubble, players were given the option to have a message of choice behind their jerseys as opposed to their last names, which is the traditional option. Some wrote “equality” and others wrote “Black Lives Matter.” Similarly, in the National Football Association (NFL), players had the choice to write anything that they thought was relevant behind their helmet and used this to display messages about racial inequality. As leagues around America allow players to express their beliefs through sports, players will remain pressuring and pushing for equality and racial justice.
While some believe that athletes should stand for what they believe in, others think sports and politics should not mix. The truth is that today’s America is a very polarized country, and politics will continue to affect sports. Everyone will have their own opinions and people have to respect that. As Rabbi Shlomo Sprung says, “We live in a world where everyone will have their own opinions; if you allow some people to think some things, then you also have to allow others to have their own point of view.”