The after effects of Tuesday’s Presidential election are just starting to settle in. Tempers are flaring on both sides, almost more than during the campaign. Why is something like this being written about on a sports website? Because over the past days I have been told “you are into sports, you know nothing about politics.” I am here to say, one can completely exist with the other.
Today is Thursday, and the World Champion Cleveland Cavaliers are heading to the White House to meet with President Obama. On the same day as President-Elect Donald Trump is. Countless other championship teams over the past 8 years, and even before that, have made this trip. Teams have met with both President Bush’s, President Clinton and Reagan. However this trip is special to the Cavaliers because they wanted to meet with President Obama before he left office. They feel a deep, abiding respect and wanted to show him that with their visit. This will also be the last championship team the resident will host at the White House.
Presidents, Politicians and athletes have always been close. On the opening day of the Major League Baseball season in 1910, President William Howard Taft threw a baseball from the stands at Washington, D.C.’s Griffith Stadium, and the tradition was born. This forever linked Sports and Politics.
On December 7th, 1941, that infamous day we almost have entirely forgotten as part of our history, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on the Hawaiian Islands. Our nation had been brought into a war President Franklin Roosevelt was trying to keep us out of. Our day of reckoning had arrived. Many athletes, including the most famous, Bob Feller and Ted Williams, just to name two, joined the ranks to go fight in World War II. So what would become of Baseball??
In January 1942, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the legendary commissioner of baseball at the time, sent Roosevelt a handwritten letter, asking if major league baseball should be suspended for the duration of the war.” The time is approaching when, in ordinary conditions, our teams would be heading for Spring training camps. However, inasmuch as these are not ordinary times, I venture to ask what you have in mind as to whether professional baseball should continue to operate,” Landis wrote.
Roosevelt didn’t waste time in responding, answering Landis’s letter the very next day. “I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going,” he wrote Landis in what has become known as “the green light letter.” The President continued: “There will be fewer people unemployed and everybody will work longer hours and harder than ever before. And that means that they ought to have a chance for recreation and for taking their minds off their work even more than before.”
The President noted that going to a game was recreation that did not last more than two to two and a half hours and was not very expensive for Americans. Remember this was in the 1940’s, before free agency and television. Roosevelt did ask if there could be more night games “because it gives an opportunity to the day shift to see a game occasionally.” Obviously the President at the time saw the tie between Sports and Politics.
Since that time we have seen many athletes over the years give their opinions on Politics in this country. Muhammad Ali being the most famous, to the Olympic sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Summer Games in Mexico City. The pair bowed their heads and raised black-gloved fists during the playing of the national anthem. Millions of Americans were outraged, and the pair lost their medals and were barred from the Olympics for life.
Today we have the recent cases of Colin Kaepernick and Brandon Marshall, and many others. Who are protesting the, in what they term, the in-equal treatment of people of color. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media in an interview after a pre season game. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” It took the media two games before they reported what Kaepernick was doing, then the country took notice. Was the Country in tune with Sports at that time? Or did Sports cross over into politics and it struck a nerve? Brandon Marshall and several other players then joined in.
The NFL, for the first time, was left powerless to do anything. First they had been found to be accepting money from the four branches of the Military for Pre Game Celebrations of returning soldiers. In other words, the NFL was making money for allowing us to cheer those coming home from duty. And there is that little item called the Freedom of Speech. Something the NFL did not want to tamper with.
Politicians always like to be seen with stars, especially from the sports world. Donald Trump was aided by Buffalo Bills offensive lineman Richie Incognito and head coach Rex Ryan, both whom appeared at a Trump rally. Bill Belichick was also in Trump’s corner, along with former Indiana basketball coach Bobby Knight. Lebron James openly campaigned with Hillary Clinton, holding a rally in Cleveland. Along with Joel Bitonio, Hank Aaron, Jim Brown, Franco Harris, Magic Johnson, Jason Kidd, Grant Hill and even, legendary Sportscaster Jon Miller.
Miller is the former voice of Sunday night Baseball on ESPN and now the announcer for the San Francisco Giants. He donated $500 to Clinton in July of this year.
The point is athletes, announcers and reporters have not only the interest, but they accept the obligation to know and understand Politics. But do we as a Nation? Too many people today take Politics and Politicians as an afterthought. Something they cannot change, and probably wouldn’t even if they could. How else can you explain so many incumbents staying in office while the media touts this election as one of “change”.
But why would anyone even say “you are into sports, you know nothing about politics”? The question should be, “where do you get your information and how can I be more informed?
We all have an obligation as a voter and citizen to be the most informed we can be. How else can we know if something that is happening in Washington is good for us or not? Why are we more likely to know what pitch Rajai Davis hit out of the park in Game 7 of the World Series than who is running for our local office of Representative?
I was notified on Facebook Wednesday morning that my district had new Representation and I should “click here” to find out who it was. Unfortunately that is how many find out their political information. Via Facebook. And they learn who to vote for there also. Through the many posts of totally inaccurate information and character slamming of each candidate. Then heaven forbid if you post on their site an opposing view and state facts to support it.
Sports and Politics have been intertwined for decades, even centuries. Yet each can survive without the other. One can also be a fan of both, and separately. Coaches and athletes do that. They understand their opponent and how to compete most effectively. The candidates do that also. Studying the issues at hand and preparing for questions and debates.
But do voters? No. They rely upon too many outside factors to get their information. Instead of studying the issues, they turn to Facebook or Twitter. They go in blindly, simply hoping the person they are voting for matches what they think. Then wonder what happened when they lose, or why so many are upset with them after a victory.
It is our duty and responsibility to understand what we want, and who best fits our ideals before walking into the polling booth. Preparing. Knowing. Just like most athletes do when they compete. Sports and Politics do mix. Saying otherwise is just wrong.
Dave Mitchell co-hosts with Mark Donahue the UST talk show “Ohio Baseball Weekly,” highlighting the Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds. The Show is at 9pm every Monday evening. If you have a comment on this or any other article,email Dave at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @ohbbcohost or @ultsportstalk.
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