This has been a crazy week for sports, and most of the drama is due to comments from the White House. President Trump’s first statement came around a week ago during a rally, according to the Chicago Tribune, with Trump saying “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners when somebody disrespects our flag to say get that son of a b***h off the field right now, out, he’s fired, he’s fired.”
This language was greeted with anger from the NFL and resulted in players, teams and even owners kneeling in solidarity against Trump’s comments. Odell Beckham Jr. even celebrated a touchdown by acting like a dog, in reference to the word “b***h.”
The second comment that riled up the sports world was Trump’s withdrawal of the White House invitation to the Golden State Warriors, the current NBA champions. First, he uninvited Steph Curry, citing Steph’s hesitation in one of his Tweets as the cause for the rescinded invite. People were confused by this turn of events. Trump was uninviting someone who had already figuratively checked “Not attending” on the RSVP. LeBron James noticed, tweeting in defense of Curry and calling the President a “bum.”
The Warriors also noticed and put out their own statement: “In lieu of a visit to the White House, we have decided that we’ll constructively use our trip to the nation’s capital in February to celebrate equality, diversity and inclusion — the values that we embrace as an organization.” Personally, I like this response most, as it is constructive instead of adding to the divisiveness.
There is a lot of reading to do on both topics, but this is less about the specifics and more about why this is different than political discourse in sports historically.
1. Politicians discussing sports is much less common than athletes discussing politics. While it would be shocking to hear Ted Cruz yell “Go Cowboys!” at the end of a speech, it would not be surprising to hear politics in the locker room. There seems to be a precedent for one and not the other.
2. In regards to the NFL, the President of the United States used “b***h.” Not only did he use it, he directed it toward his own citizens. He was calling peaceful protesters disrespectful, yet he used one of the most disrespectful terms possible to describe them. Protests have been happening in sports for many years, recent memory starting with Muhammad Ali. It had not been met with such language from POTUS until now.
3. This is not the first time an athlete has skipped a White House visit, and it certainly was not the most disrespectful phrasing of reasons (see Tom Lehman). The difference this time was the President’s rescinding of an invitation. For some it is petty, but for others, it’s a sign of strength. Either way, it is unheard of.
There is a lot to talk about in terms of right and wrong, especially in terms of kneeling during the National Anthem, but one thing is sure. Politics and sports, especially the Oval Office and sports, have a new relationship. We just have to wait and see how it will continue playing out.