The continued politicization of sports is driving fans away from the traditional networks.
San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich attacked Trump before Sunday’s NBA game. He said there is a dark “cloud” over the country, and Trump treats the media coverage of him like a game show, which he called “disingenuous, cynical, and fake.” Everybody is entitled to their opinion, of course, and they have a constitutional right to say what they believe. The problem comes from turning what used to be a neutral and even unifying nonpolitical event into yet one more opportunity for hyper-partisan bickering and moral preening.
Unlike many countries around the world, America is not built around a single religion, race, or ethnic group. The goal of a melting pot of many different people and backgrounds joining together relies upon a commitment to the rule of law and joint participation in the democracy. It may not seem like it, but sports are an important part of that, as the fans come from a variety of races, political backgrounds, ethnic groups, or classes. The joint honoring of the national anthem, applause for soldiers, and chance to cheer (or boo) as one are important unifying elements.
Yet that unifying force is breaking down. ESPN has increasingly turned into MSESPN, with left-leaning pundits and analysts commenting on matters that have little or no relation to sports news. Athletes such as Colin Kaepernick have knelt during the national anthem, many athletes made the “hands up don’t shoot” gesture in honor of Black Lives Matter (even though it turned out to be the lie of the year), NBC commenters made a gun control speech during halftime, football players boycotted the visit to the White House, and now Gregg Popovich attacked the Trump administration.
Regardless of the merits of their protest or position, it is unseemly to turn what used to be a neutral and unifying space into another contested battleground. The friction also seems counterproductive, as most commentators and protests come from the left, when the audience is, at minimum, split down the middle, with many suggesting the average sports viewer leans to the right.
As a result, the announcers’, analysts’, and athletes’ attempts to inject politics usually come across as whiny preaching to an audience that just wants to enjoy the game. As a Redskins fan, for example, just to watch a game, I have to endure banal commentary about the supposedly offensive nature of the name, even though the vast majority of Native Americans approve and there is even a high school team on a reservation called the Redskins.
The cumulative effect of the sermonizing and political statements is to politicize yet one more place. Eventually people get sick of being lectured and tune out. Ratings and revenue will drop, but more importantly, when people get sick and tired of being called racist all the time, they’ll end up voting for the other guy.
That leads to an incredible irony in that the moralizing from those like Popovich help drive voters toward Trump. It’s great that Gregg Popovich has an articulate opinion about politics. But sometimes discretion is the better part of valor. He should respect the neutral space of basketball and, if asked a political question, he should respectfully decline to answer and take his political points elsewhere.