Sports and patriotism

The title of Howard Byrant’s article from ESPN found here.

He makes this point worth reiterating:

The great contradiction and irony of it all on July 4, when we celebrate freedom, is that it is again the power — in this case the sports leagues and big marketers — and not the individual that dictates what is an acceptable expression. Individual expression of cause is still often loudly shouted down as grandstanding. When a player injects his politics or cause into the game, the old rules of not mixing politics and sports suddenly reappear. When Chris Kluwe or Brendon Ayanbadejo speaks about supporting gay marriage, or Henry Aaron or Harry Edwards laments the lack of coaching and ownership opportunities for minorities, or players stand up for their labor rights, the reflex is a familiar one: shut up and play. Perhaps instead of being told who and what to cheer for by billion-dollar sports leagues, it should be remembered that the greatest freedom — fought and died for by so many of the young men and women trotted out to throw out the first pitch — is dissent.

For the curious, here is Bush’s first pitch, as mentioned in the article, from Game 3 of the World Series in 2001:

If anything, that video makes me somewhat sad that President Bush, standing tall at a 90% approval rating with the support of practically every major country in the world, squandered such good will on complete bullshit like the Iraq War. But I digress…

So, then, what is the function of the entangling alliance between patriotism (re: to some extent, nationalism) and sports, if individuals within those sports are looked down upon for forging their own political path via the pulpit afforded them through sports? Is it just some relic of an abnormal post-9/11 sensibility and need for belongingness? Is it a means to a profitable ends in that patriotism sells?

There’s also something to be said about the thin line between supporting troops and glorifying the military, military service and war in particular.

Personally, I find something alluring, attractive and assuaging about the escapism sports can offer. Yet, at the same time, I want the individuals within sports to be afforded, like the rest of us, the ability to voice their opinion on politics sans stifling condemnation from league owners and the like.

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