Michael Mordarski: I hate sports

Wednesday, October 4, 2017 - 2:21pm

I hate sports.

I have absolutely no interest in any team, franchise, game or athlete.

My lack of care immediately disqualifies me from 95 percent of all conversations occurring within reach of a bottle of Budweiser, as men are horrified at my utter neglect over the statistics of the most recent game of the home concussions versus the away concussions.

Yet, though I don't care for sports, I do care for politics.

And I don't just care — I know politics like a Vegas bookie knows sports.

So when the two worlds collided last week due to our commander-in-tweet pandering to his base condemning the protests in the NFL, the political world I follow brought forth ample historical evidence about how protests have been utilized in the past within American sports. More specifically, these sports have become a righteous platform for marginalized Black athletes to voice their objections to a country that preaches equality. 

Several pieces written these past few weeks conveyed these ideas, and NPR’s Domenico Montanaro wrote a particularly excellent article that demonstrated the “complicated history of black athletes protesting in sports.”

In the Olympic Games, Black athletes have won countless medals for a country that divides, segregates and marginalizes them. From Jesse Owens in Nazi Germany to John Carlos and Tommie Smith in Mexico City, Black athletes have competed and succeeded for the United States despite the blatantly racist institutions that exist in the homeland.

And in 1968, when Smith and Carlos donned black gloves and raised their fists in a Black Power salute throughout the entirety of the national anthem, they did so to a United States caught in the grips of racial and social chaos.

As Montanaro wrote, “1968 was another inflection point year in American political and social history. Violence was spilling out in the civil rights and integration movement. Cities had been burned from rioting the year before. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy had been assassinated.”

And that was how they could respond: capturing white America’s attention.

That was how they could utilize the success of their athleticism to move the indifferent and tepid white American population into an uncomfortable conversation on race.

Yet, naturally, the two athletes faced an overwhelming amount of criticism and condemnation for such an act. They were stripped of their gold medals and condemned for their disrespect to our country.

Or take Muhammad Ali and his refusal to be drafted into a war he and millions of others morally objected to (and rightly so). His defiance to the draft landed him a sentence of five years in prison, yet he was unwavering about being sent to fight and kill the Vietnamese: “And shoot them for what? They never called me n-----, they never lynched me, they didn’t put no dogs on me, they didn’t rob me of my nationality, rape and kill my mother and father. … Shoot them for what? How can I shoot them poor people? Just take me to jail.” The Supreme Court later overturned Ali's conviction, and he never served time.

And now, within the NFL, acts of protest face an overwhelming amount of chauvinistic condemnation due to the near-satirical amount of patriotism displayed at our football games (we fly military aircraft over our stadiums). The vilification of these protesters comes from the ignorant and unsympathetic who lack the understanding that what these athletes are protesting has nothing to do with a piece of cloth.

Athletic success is an extremely effective platform for protest. I have often looked at sports as something nearly free from political discourse, which I thought justified my lack of interest. But I forget I come from a position of privilege and ignorance, living my comfortable life unaware of Black athletes’ effective protests in the past. These athletes were offered an audience politicians could only dream of. They were revered and idolized for athletic ability, granting them the eyes and ears of millions.

Perhaps our president is calculating, and utilizing his outrage over this issue to mask the other glaring problems plaguing his administration. (Hey, Jared, cute email server, and, Tom Price, nice government jet you got there.)

Or maybe, just maybe, he's an impulsive old racist who panders to a base that worships a piece of cloth while disregarding the very intangible rights it represents.

I may hate sports, but I now realize it’s another platform that can be used to address the problems that continue to infect our country.

Michael Mordarski can be reached at mmordars@umich.edu.