By Jose Castillo, Campus Cowboy
Late last month, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, one-time golden boy turned public enemy number one, reignited the old American tradition of athletes demonstrating their beliefs and fans reacting negatively. Kaepernick’s actions have spawned numerous heated, mostly obnoxious, discussions across social media. I not only find his actions brave, but also ingenious, as they were able to bring attention to what would have been a rather lackluster season for the quarterback.
Critics of Kaepernick can be divided into three groups: Those who take issue with Kaepernick for sitting during the national anthem, those who take issue with the platform that Kaepernick used in order to voice his opinions and those who take issue with both. Taking issue with Kaepernick’s convictions is purely political and has no impact on the sport itself, but to disagree with the platform upon which he chose to demonstrate his beliefs brings up a topic I’ve never really thought about before: Do sports have a place for these heavy-handed political discussions? Is there really room for sports to be anything other than sports?
As legendary basketball player and professional bobblehead Charles Barkley once said, “I’m not paid to be a role model. I’m paid to wreak havoc on the basketball court,” clearly defining the role of the athlete to just be that: An athlete.
However, unlike Barkley, many athletes have sought to make an impact on spectators, using their sporting events to bring to light issues that may have otherwise been dismissed. In 1969, members of the University of Wyoming football program were dismissed after asking to wear black armbands during their game against Brigham Young University to protest the Church of Latter Day Saints’ ban on African-Americans entering priesthood. Many may recognize the image of two African-American athletes bowing their heads and raising their glove-fitted fists after receiving medals; a “human rights salute” demonstrated by sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos during the 1968 summer Olympics in Mexico City. Over the summer, members of the Minnesota Lynx warmed up in shirts that read “Black Lives Matter,” an action that garnered disapproval from the WNBA. Sports have even seemed to seep into politics, as many Brazilians took to the streets to protest this summer’s Olympic Games and government corruption.
For some, sports have no room for politics. In fact, they believe sports have no room for anything else but sports. As much as I would want that to be true, sports have proven to have room to spare. In 2010, the Wall Street Journal calculated the average amount of action shown during a typical NFL game and found that out of the average three hours and 12 minutes each game lasted, only 11 minutes were given to playing time. 17 minutes were given to replays, and 75 minutes spent simply switching between shots of players, coaches, and fans in between plays. Sporting events already hardly show any sports.
Don’t forget about the nearly 20 commercial breaks that squeeze in over 100 advertisements per game. The Super Bowl is riddled with even more unfunny commercials, and even includes a halftime show that you always know is going to be absolutely horrible. On top of that, every game is prefixed by a national ceremony that includes a B-List pop star belching out what that person thinks is a new twist on the “Star Spangled Banner.” It would be easy to make the argument that this nationalistic, pre-game ritual is as much of a political statement and as separated from the sport itself as Kaepernick’s decision to sit out.
Overall, sports are much more than what happens on the field. Sports can both be a means of escape and a tool to process and deal with the heaviest of topics. To stifle the outlet sports can provide to players is rejecting what it says about us as humans: that we are not just one dimensional, but are instead complex beings that can hold convictions and beliefs, and can put those aside for the sake of the game.