A couple of years ago, FOX News personality Laura Ingraham told LeBron James to “shut up and dribble” when the basketball star had the audacity to express a political opinion.
That is the same response that many athletes get when they dare talk about something more than their game plan. It is a way of demeaning the athlete, as if their opinion does not count because they are just dumb jocks.
Sportswriters often have to deal with the same sentiment as the athletes, and for similar reasons.
Almost every time, it comes in the form of the same three words: Stick to sports.
By telling us to “stick to sports,” they try to keep us in our place, as if our opinion is not worth as much because we write about games.
Mechanics are not told to “stick to cars” if they chime in on the racial riots around the country.
Dentists are not told to “stick to teeth” when they make a statement pro or against a political candidate.
Accountants are not told to “stick to numbers” when they say that they disagree with the trade China trade policy.
Sportswriters, though, we have to “stick to sports.”
We are not allowed to have an opinion on any political matter, whether that opinion is expressed in our sports columns or on social media.
That includes our personal social media pages, too. How dare we retweet a political zinger when everyone knows we are only skilled in typing up stories on a basketball game.
Those “no politics” orders are not in response to injecting politics into a game story, either. It is not like writers are describing an offensive line that is “softer than Michael Dukakis on crime” or a breaking ball that was “more crooked than Richard Nixon.”
We are talking about columns and opinion pieces about the issues of the day.
“Keep politics out of it,” they say because nobody wants to hear about your politics — unless it is politics they agree with.
They want their sports commentary free of any talk about red and blue, unless, of course, you add white and write about your love of country.
As people get more and more political, the more they want others to stop being so darn political.
When we write about Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the national anthem — and his unofficial ban from the NFL because of it — we are told to “stick to sports.”
That is, unless we write a column that panders to the sham patriots and discuss how bad the quarterback who took the 49ers to the Super Bowl really stunk at playing football anyway.
I know that firsthand. When I wrote a column that Kaepernick just might be more American than those patriots telling him “love it or leave it,” I almost got Dixie Chicked along with the quarterback.
So many letter writers told me I should, you guessed it, “stick to sports,” even though I was literally writing about an NFL quarterback.
When I wrote a column asking why we have to play the national anthem before every sporting event in the first place, I had an old reader repeatedly poke me in the chest while yelling at me. His last words before storming away were, “I like it better when you stick to sports.”
Even when I pointed out some hypocrisy from a Facebook tough guy this past week, I was told I would be better suited to “sticking to sports.”
Right now, politics and sports are intertwined, and that is nothing new. That makes it nearly impossible to completely keep political talk off the sports pages.
Some issues are so big that they dominate every aspect of life, and that includes the world of sports.
When Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists during the playing of the national anthem after winning the gold and bronze medal in the 200-meter race at the 1968 Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City, it must have been hard to write a story that simply focused on their times in the race.
Once Muhammad Ali was stripped of his world heavyweight title for refusing to join the army in 1967, the rest of his career became almost as much about his political views almost as his rope-a-dope.
When peopled talked about the great Cassius Clay — “His momma named him Clay, I’m gonna call him Clay” — you could not tell where the politics ended and the boxing began.
Likewise, you cannot write about Ted Williams without bring up the missions he flew in World War II and the Korean War. How could you watch Super Bowl III without talking about how Joe Namath’s knees were good enough to topple the Colts but not strong enough to pass an Army physical?
Can you listen to a Dodgers broadcast without remembering the time in 1976 when outfield Rick Monday, now an announcer, stopped the protesters from burning a flag in right field at Dodgers Stadium?
Sports has always played an integral role in helping American society move forward. It was there during the civil rights movement. It was there when the great tennis player Arthur Ashe educated the world about HIV and AIDS.
Just 20 years ago, the movie “Remember the Titans,” which was based on a true story, gave us all a reminder of the struggles of integration in southern states.
It would not hurt, by the way, to watch that movie one more time because, once again, we find our nation in peril, and race is at the heart of the issue.
Now we have the demonstrations on the streets because an unarmed black man was killed by a white cop, who looked at the camera while kneeling on the dying man’s neck, for allegedly trying to pass a bogus $20 bill.
Some of those demonstrations have given way to violence and looting as others have hijacked the cause.
Athletes and coaches have spoken out. Some have even traveled to take part in demonstrations in their hometowns. Others have taken to social media to express their feelings.
No matter which side you are on, there is no denying that race relations are not good right now.
The year 1968, a time of riots, war and assassinations, has been invoked by so many in looking for parallels to 2020. Just like it was 52 years ago, sports and politics are intertwined.
It is only going to get worse, too, as the presidential election heats up and NFL football returns. Just ask Drew Brees.
The nation will somehow be divided into two teams, even though the issue is way too complicated to dumb down to one side versus the other.
You either support the kneeling player and hate the police, or you love the police and hate the kneeling player. Well, that is silly.
In reality, it is possible to believe that the overwhelming majority of cops are good people, that those marching in the streets to protest the police have a valid point, and that looting is always wrong.
One thing is for sure, however.
The stick-to-sports crowd is going to be out of luck.
— Bill Foley, who is softer than Michael Dukakis on crime, writes a column that usually appears Tuesdays on ButteSports.com. He is writing more frequently during the coronavirus lockdown. Email him at email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74.