“First They Ignore You, Then They Laugh at You, Then They Fight…”
If you are not in the habit of watching sports news, today would be a good day to sample it. Your choices are one of the many ESPN offerings, and Fox Sports 1 (FS1). I’m not recommending those of you who are not interested enough in sports suddenly become so. Frankly, what you are likely to see today is not about the games. And yes, we have been without college and pro sports for months now. There is no new reporting, for the most part. (Spare me the NASCAR is a sport thing. This ain’t about that).
Sports in America is a huge preoccupation and rakes in a tremendous amount of cash from consumers, year in an year out. Yes, sports is a uniter of people from different cultures, but the uniting is typically not about culture. It is about sport. As such, culture does not easily mix into the subject. Culturally, we have our differences, and in this country we also have our divisions, and for the most part, they are not addressed in big time athletics. That being the case, television and radio sports programs try to avoid it. Some individuals have allowed it to creep in to their performances, and it has not worked well for their careers. Keith Olbermann is a prominent example of how this affects broadcasters. Curt Flood and Colin Kaepernick are examples of how it can affect athletes careers.
The subject of Kaepernick is a great entry into the current status of politics in sports. Just a few years ago, Kaepernick was reviled and essentially ostracized for what was essentially a silent protest against the pathogen behind the murder of George Floyd. Many admired Kaepernick for using his celebrity to make a statement. This American man made a statement. At the same time, many opposed Kaepernick’s statement, and his act of doing so. President Trump called him, and everyone who demonstrated with him, “son-of-a-bitch.” Americans making statements.
Now, the ESPN audience is mainly young, suburban, and male. That’s the target. Politically, the rhetoric skews center right, although the politics tends to not be overt. Now, there are black members of the media on the national sports programs, and some of them are quite prominent, but they are foils for dominant culture. They don’t really drive the culture. It is a tricky path to gain access to such a platform and remain entirely as you are.
Sports news is very different today, and I mean literally today, not just recently. Today, and maybe tomorrow, you can tune in and hear discussions of the issues plaguing our country, that you can find on any cable news station. The interesting thing is, this is an explosion of pent up demand, and coming out from areas where we had not seen it previously. That’s the change.
Once upon a time, not too long ago, it was thought that the NFL owners, all conservatives, were opposed to Colin Kaepernick’s platform, and embargoed his career. His career essentially ended prematurely. Now, NFL owners, and coaches are delivering “Black Lives Matter” messages, and saying “I Can’t Breathe”, and various other emblems of the fight against violence against black people movement. This is a big change. Previously, discussion on radio and television broke down culturally, when it happened at all. Tom Brady had a “Make America Great Again” hat in his locker, until he received some bad press for it. When asked how he voted, he has never answered. But, discussion of the issues of the day usually divided in the predictable ways.
Today, I saw a very detailed discussion of the George Floyd murder which drilled down into public policy regarding policing, and then electoral issues, various politicians from other states, like Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, and Senator Lindsay Graham, and even down into the stocking of the federal bench. Suddenly, we have gone from avoiding the discussion of politics to deep immersion of the issues. And folks, they did the discussions justice. Clearly, some of these reporters know their stuff. One woman came to ESPN from another agency where she had been a business reporter. She remarked about the noteworthy aspect of these large corporations issuing statements saying, “Black Lives Matter”, where they had basically opposed such statements until very recently. Shannon Sharpe, to his great credit, also went into these issues in great detail, and with a great level of sophistication. I was impressed and pleased. I’m pleased because the world that the young, white, male, suburban demographic can easily avoid these issues, and tends not to hear about them from people they admire. Today, that has changed. I recommend to get a sample of it, not because you might be interested in sports, but because they are doing a good discussion of public policy.
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