• Lindsey Max

The Separation of Sport and State


Photo credit: Lindsey Max/MNT. Sports fans gets especially riled up when athletes speak out on political issues.

I know better than to read the comment section of articles posted to social media, yet I simply can’t resist. Maybe I’m looking for a witty retort. Maybe I’m checking to see if anyone is providing more information. Maybe, deep down, I’m hoping to discover the internet is suddenly kind, supportive, morally sound and logical.

Or maybe I’m just a masochist, because, ultimately, I know what awaits.

Sadly, it came as no surprise that when news of Jacob Blake’s shooting spread, plenty of hateful ignorance ensued.

By last Wednesday afternoon, demonstrations sparked by yet another police shooting of an unarmed Black man made their way to the sports world. Teams and athletes across the NBA, WNBA, MLB, MLS, NHL, and professional tennis refused to play to take a stand against ongoing police brutality and systemic racism.

The criticism from sports fans came as quickly as the seven bullets Kenosha, Wis., Police Officer Rusten Sheskey fired into Blake’s back.

“For goodness sake, let sports be sports!”

“I was so hoping hockey would be the one sport that did not cow down to politics. A sad day.

“Surely not the place! Perfectly lovely night ruined with politics!”

“In a time when there is so much divide, I watch hockey to escape. I don’t need politics in my sports.”

“The politicization of sports is so bad, especially during a pandemic when people could really use a break from the Covid upheaval and just enjoy a game.”

They want to bring politics into sports, might as well dismantle all sports leagues, cancel all contracts, pay nobody and send them all packing. See you later you over payed (sic) crybabies!


Here’s the thing: the people making these complaints aren’t mad about “politics” in sports. They’re mad about diversity.


Do these same fans who whine about wanting to let sports just be sports complain during military appreciation night? Cancer awareness night? Autism awareness night? Heck, the Washington Capitals NHL franchise even have an Irish night for St. Patrick’s Day — where is the outrage?! After all, don’t ALL holidays, illnesses and occupations matter?


Spoiler alert: Nobody complains about any of the above. The only time you will ever hear “let sports be sports!” is when teams and athletes express support for BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities.


More importantly, however, these “snowflakes” aren’t actually upset about “politics” in sports, because these aren’t political statements.


Saying “Black Lives Matter” is not a statement relating to our government, its policies or its parties; it is a statement that Black lives matter just as much as everyone else’s, and they need to be treated as such. Celebrating Pride Month is not a statement relating to our government, its policies or its parties; it is a statement that everyone should feel safe and welcome to both watch and play these sports, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. You want to know what’s a lot more political than celebrating Black History Month? Celebrating our country’s military. You know what’s a lot more political than wearing a rainbow jersey? Singing the National Anthem before every game. You want to know what’s a lot more political than saying “Black Lives Matter?” Visiting the White House and the political leader of the United States after winning a championship. Now, before anyone twists my words, let me be clear: I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to sing the National Anthem or honor the military at sports events. I am using these examples to show that politics have always been enmeshed with sports. So why is it that, all of the sudden, fans of any-and-all sports are lamenting the lack of separation between sport and state? Supporting diversity, inclusion and equality is not political. It’s ethical and basic human decency. If expressing such support feels like “forcing politics on you,” then your political beliefs are inherently ones of hatred and bigotry.

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