"He should stop being so political and just play football," was the general conservative consensus regarding Colin Kaepernick's recent protests of kneeling during the national anthem. As though sports and politics should not mix.
Kathrine Switzer ran the Boston marathon in 1967 as men tried to rip off her race bib, angry that a woman had entered their race. Medalists Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in a black power salute at the 1968 summer Olympic Games. These are iconic images in both sports and politics. The two have always been intertwined.
Sports and politics function similarly — both have seasons and dramas that play out according to rules of tradition, and changes to the game depend largely upon favorable ratings and the fan base. We attach ourselves to one side and cling firmly to the belief that it's the good guy and the other side is the bad guy.
During the Super Bowl on Sunday, I rooted for the Atlanta Falcons. Not because I have a particular affinity for the Falcons (I've never been to Atlanta). Nor because I hate the Patriots — though as a lifelong Bronco fan, it's a requirement. My support came down to politics. Photos of Tom Brady buddying up with Donald Trump ran in contrast to the stories of Falcons owner Arthur Blank, who reportedly paid for every single employee of the team to attend the Super Bowl. At a cost of $800,000, he made sure that the guy who scrubs the sweat off the locker room floor got tickets to the hottest show in town. A very clear good guy/ bad guy narrative emerged on its own.
From the Hamilton girls adding the word "sisterhood" to America the Beautiful, to the powerful commercials supporting women's rights and immigrants, to Lady Gaga's feminist, queer, sparkly, inclusive, mic-dropping half time show, the Super Bowl began to feel like a Trojan horse. Issues near and dear to this liberal fangirl were being blasted into every living room in America during the most macho heartland event.
Like Brady's buddy Trump, the Patriots managed to squeak by and claim the trophy. The bad guys won, and I briefly felt crushed again. But I am energized by the movement that is only just beginning. It is led by the entertainers, entrepreneurs, football players, business leaders, teachers and union workers — and all of us willing to keep politics front and center. Willing to speak about politics using whatever platform or pulpit we have. Willing to let politics infiltrate our weekends and our hobbies.
Because whether or not you think politics should be part of sports or film or theater is irrelevant. It's already there.
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