A useful exercise in Richard Deitsch’s SI.com column today, as he asks seven sports media members for their opinions on whether it’s their place to introduce politics into their work. And the most bearish of them all is NFL robot Adam Schefter.
To the question of “should people in the sports media make their political viewpoints known publicly?”, Schefter answers:
No. Politics is not a normal day-to-day topic of discussion and reporting. It does not impact how we go about our jobs. Sports figures who publicize their political viewpoints only serve to divide the audience. People are drawn to sports as an escape from politics. Even for someone like Andy Katz, who gets President Obama’s NCAA picks, Andy should not have to disclose his political views because he’s doing the interview. The focus of their interaction is basketball, not politics, as it should be. Though also allow me to say that while we’re on the topic of reporting and the White House, no President ever has invited me to make his playoff picks up to and through the Super Bowl. If whichever President is in office will have me down to Washington to do this story in January, I’m all in, Democrat, Republican, independent or any party.
Schefter is the Twitter egg crying “stick to sports” in your mentions.
There is a distinction between supporting a candidate and having political viewpoints, and it is clear from Schefter’s subsequent answers that it’s a distinction he does not draw. Which may go to explain how he thinks it is even possible to keep social issues out of sports, which is as unrealistic an expectation as they come. Race is politics. Gender is politics. Inequality is politics. You can’t discuss sports without discussing things like that—everything is politics, even sports.
Schefter was asked if he’s ever “referenced something political on your social media feed,” and he says he never has. He says “I live in fear of accidentally doing it.” Well, here’s some political references from Schefter’s twitter from just this weekend.
- A tweet about Tom Brady’s pending appeal in the Deflategate case, which is potentially a pretty major case in labor litigation. It’s not about deflated footballs, but it’s about where the limits of power granted by collectively bargained agreements lie when they bump up against legal standards established by the Labor Management Relations Act.
- A retweet of the Mets signing Jose Reyes after he was released following his suspension for a domestic violence arrest. This deals not only with the rising national conversation about spousal abuse, but with the question of whether it’s right or just for sports leagues to impose punishments when the legal system chooses not to.
- A tweet about Johnny Manziel’s latest problems, which touch on the legal system’s, the NFL’s, and society’s inability to deal with addiction issues.
- A tweet about a college football player, facing academic ineligibility, declaring for the supplemental draft. This is the sham of amateur sports, one of the greatest sources of free labor left in America, propped up by the countless riches flowing from taxpayers to the public university system.
- A tweet about Florida’s three NFL teams contributing to a fund to support those affected by the mass murder in Orlando earlier this month, a tragedy that ignited the nation’s discussions of LGBTQ progress, religious fundamentalism, mental health, and gun control.
Again, the truly baffling part here is that Schefter (and so many like him) don’t see anything political about this stuff. The only way to cover sports without introducing politics is to cover it dishonestly.
“Stick to sports” is a heavily political stance on its own, a reactionary one. It’s a desire to maintain the status quo—and I will leave it to others to ponder why, of Deitsch’s seven interviewees, Jemele Hill and Bomani Jones were the only two strongly in favor of embracing important issues when they arise.
Hill’s answer nailed the logical fallacy required to believe that we can ever keep politics out of sports:
It’s based on the assumption that the sports world isn’t political, so the thinking is that whenever someone in sports ventures into politics, we are stepping into some treacherous, new world.
NEWSFLASH: Sports is political. This idea that sports is untouched by politics is bull. In both little and big ways we’re exposing our political views all the time. We just buried arguably the greatest athlete of all time in Muhammad Ali, and the majority of conversations about Ali were about his beliefs and politics. If you express open admiration for Ali because he stood up against the war, or if you’re among those that still consider him to be anti-American, aren’t you exposing a little bit about your politics? When Richard Sherman criticized the Black Lives Matter movement, my co-host Michael Smith and I took him to task, and thus exposed our politics. Congress inserted itself in the performance-enhancing drug and concussion issues. We have billion-dollar stadiums being built on taxpayer money.
Jones, in his answer, tells the instructive story of an April Mike & Mike appearance, in which he wore a shirt parodying the Indians logo with a “Caucasians” version. He was asked to cover it up, and of course there was a whole raft of controversy over Jones’s political statement.
“Many deemed [that shirt] to be ‘political,’” Jones told Deitsch, but then followed this to its logical conclusion: “That would make the Indians logo itself political, and I’ve never heard someone say during an Indians game that they don’t want to talk about politics when they watch sports.”
Yep. That’s exactly it. Sports are political because they exist in the real world, and are played and run by real people. True escapism requires willful ignorance. There is no magical realm where we can keep social issues outside the stadium, no matter how much simpler that would make Adam Schefter’s life.