To strengthen his support base, Trump sought to belittle and share a diverse and sheltered world of sport. Instead, he awakened, united and mobilized some of the most competitive adversaries he has faced. He gave the politically agnostic among them exactly what they needed to activate: an opponent. Combine this with social issues that are terrifyingly personal to many athletes, and sport has become more openly politicized than ever.
The result is bad for ratings, Trump likes to say. For the president, however, it could be worse. It’s his fault that sport is like this. It wasn’t just one morning that the athletes decided to become what they hadn’t aspired to as a collective. Trump aimed at them and expected an easy win. And the aggressive response was far more controlled and strategic than he’d imagined.
We’ll start seeing the scoreboard on Tuesday, but regardless of whether Trump or Joe Biden win the election, there’s no denying that sport has played a role in combating the incumbent’s apologetic attempt to keep voter turnout down . While voter intimidation and repression tactics continue to be a cause for concern, this election now has an inspiring energy and sense of mission that underscores the public’s desire to be responsible stewards of a democracy. Every corner of the sports world has contributed to this effort. Since the return of the sport at the end of July after a break forced by viruses, the message of “VOTE” can be seen almost exactly as the score of the game.
While it can be concluded that a majority of athletes want to vote out Trump and other politicians who don’t seem to be concerned about the pandemic and systemic racism, most have not specifically told people who to vote, instead focusing instead on commitment. They urged their teams to turn more arenas and stadiums into electoral centers. Last week, Chris Paul, president of the National Basketball Players Association, led about 2,500 people on a march to a polling station in North Carolina.
Athletes have made simple, universal points: listen, learn, worry, participate. They want people to be good citizens and vote. They want the police to stop killing with impunity. You want to encourage humanity.
Shame on these pristine and selfless athletes.
“It’s not the NBA’s job to change the world,” he said, “but it’s the NBA’s job to be part of the world.”
Sport Relish insulation. The games are about escaping worlds. It’s not a privilege reserved only for fans. In fact, most of the participants disappear into the experience. At the highest level, many athletes are given the opportunity to give up poverty and go from rags to riches. Then they flee into this new life of money and fame. During the trip, the hall goes by to leave real life. When neighborhood leaders see prospects with the talent to make it, they protect them. When they are essential to the success and reputation of their schools, rules and academic standards are sometimes massaged to live up to them. When they make it big with the pros, they become so removed from reality that mundane chores are done and afternoon naps are an expectation rather than a luxury.
The insulation thickens with every step. The bubble environments that the NBA, WNBA, and NHL created to end their season were more than coronavirus-free fortresses. They were metaphors. In sports you can always build a wall.
But it’s not an impenetrable way of life. While exceptional athleticism can provide protection against poverty and the failure of public education, it does not prevent a star from being run over to drive while it is black. It doesn’t stop the president from responding to their protests – their desperate pleadings that the voiceless be heard – by calling one of them a “son of a bitch” and saying they should be fired.
Trump chose the wrong fight, and there is evidence of bigotry for how he underestimated black athletes and women of all races. He doesn’t believe in her empowerment. He thought they weren’t going to vigorously push back, and if they did, he imagined more of the extreme polarity and chaos he created while tracking the NFL in 2017.
But the landscape is different now. Suffering is widespread and varied, and creates more avenues for empathy. And the sports characters have adapted what they do best. Most of them spend their lives overcoming opportunities and doing incredible things. They spend their lives striving.
Trump did not respect their strength and determination, and because of that, he inadvertently spawned a source of enormous underutilized influence in America: the athletes. In particular the black athlete.
Such a movement has been building for nearly a decade in response to police brutality. But brazen racism created a level of urgency and commitment unprecedented in any of the major American team sports leagues.
For sport, the motivation is not to flaunt political influence. Many players have admitted that this is their first time voting. Their franchisees largely support Republican candidates. Some owners have thrown a lot of money into Trump, but the athletes haven’t targeted them yet. It is evidence that the sports world prefers to rest somewhere between apolitical and tolerant of ideological differences. It is also proof that athletes are focused on how best to channel their influence.
“I’m not going to put my energy into it because it’s not surprising,” James said during the NBA Finals when asked about the discrepancy between the interests of players and owners. “My mother always said to me, ‘Control what you can control. ‘And I can’t control that. What I can control is what I do on my side and try to get people around me and my initiatives and do what we do to bring about change, not only in our communities but also outside of our communities with the Youth, and let them understand how important their voice and voice is to our society.
“It’s bloody hard because they just don’t believe it. They don’t think their voice or their message or their minds or their voices matter. But there is my energy, if I keep pushing the boundaries of my church and keep letting them know that they are the future, they are the reason there will be changes. “
Throughout history, leaders have been wise to use sport to unite and get excited. The tradition includes trips to the White House, keys to the city, declarations of the day celebrating great successes, friendly betting between governors, and photo opportunities. Feel-good stuff. But from the start of the Trump presidency, few athletes wanted a divisive president to use them for public relations.
Maybe that offended Trump. So he became the villain and whined that he couldn’t be the hero. He has some support in the sports world, but for the most part he is an enemy. He is the most powerful person to make fun of athletes’ concerns – which reflects the concerns of the communities they represent – about humanity.
Now, after four years of jaw and antagonism, the struggle is really entering the political arena. The athletes hope that they have done their part to ignite voters in ways that Biden, a 77-year-old political significant other trying to portray change, could not achieve on his own. The early voting numbers suggest the nation will be committed, and if so, it is a victory for the democratic process, a victory that has shamefully not been secured due to the presidential interference.
Trumpism has done a lot to stimulate and demoralize. However, the spirit in sports remains invincible. That doesn’t mean the athletes will win, and if they do, it doesn’t mean they will prove to be a critical factor. But equality is a game that MVPs neither finish nor award. It requires a constant desire to improve, defend and develop. At that crucial moment, the Pursuit found some ideal competitors from a sports world that could no longer justify staying cozy and isolated.
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