Sports News Without Access, Favor, Or Discretion

You’re Not Sticking To Sports When You Stick To Sports

Just everyone havin’ fun not talking about infants in captivity
Photo: Elsa (Getty)

We live in an age of mass cowardice, and so it’s unsurprising that the PGA—that famed bastion of sporting tolerance—would not only charge ahead with staging a major tournament at a Trump-owned golf course, but also that they would limply try to have it both ways by consigning the President’s flagrant, deadly racism to the dreaded and, in their view, impregnable politics sphere:

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That is a statement designed to please racists and no one else, and even racists will bitch because the word “diversity” is used in a positive manner.

The PGA is a sporting concern whose most prestigious tournament takes place at a club that had no black members until 1990 and no female members until this decade. And yet, the association’s gutlessness is hardly an anomaly. All the big boys wanna stick to sports now, and have fashioned that mantra into an edict that is hard and fast in banning certain political commentary while still allowing for perhaps the occasional Supreme Court justice endorsement and backchannel presidential fundraiser. The NFL wants to stick to football. MLB wants to stick to baseball. And ESPN would very much like to assist those leagues in this endeavor. New ESPN head Jimmy Pitaro recently got a gold star from bossman Bob Iger for rescuing the four-letter company from its occasional dalliance with mildly overt (liberal) political sports commentary. Last summer, Pitaro made it clear that at ESPN, “it is not our jobs to cover politics, purely.” Two months later, this future Tim Blake Nelson movie character reiterated and justified that hardline stance by saying that his “research team” found that…

The more we lean into politically charged commentary, the more we are alienating not just our core fan but our casual fan

Sports fans of a certain ilk have been loudly bitching for a firewall between sports and politics for years and years now, since well before ESPN and the insane rights fees they pay became a source of endless frowny faces for Disney stockholders. Pretty much every other broadcaster is equally fearful of raising the dander of any area mustache driving a Ford pickup. “Stick to sports” is such a tired gripe that even joking about it is tired now. It’s a complaint that is always made by the exact same type of sports fan, be they core or casual, with the exact same type of politics…

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But revanchism has become THE hot rebooted trend under the Trump administration, and so these MAGA toads keep at it, endlessly demanding that their precious sports and the people within those sports be castrated of anything resembling progressive attitudes, lest their enjoyment of a fucking Steelers game be slightly diminished. In the PGA, NFL owners, and network heads, they’ve found perfect corporate panderers to take those complaints at face value, to craft those grievances into a formal mandate, and then to hold that bullshit mandate up as the proven solution to their profit woes, even if it isn’t. It’s like Mitt Romney is commissioner of everything.

So, although the argument’s been made a million times before, I guess I’m gonna have to make it one more goddamn time: there is no sticking to sports. Sports are a highly visible part of the world, and they are both underwritten and infiltrated by multiple political forces in that world. You think I wanna fucking talk about politics? I don’t. I swear. I just wanna smoke some dope and chill the fuck out and treat politics as something tedious and inconsequential.

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But that is not the country I live in. It never has been, really. When you’re talking about everyday politics like farm subsidy bills and shit, you have better odds of compartmentalizing it and keeping it isolated from discussions about whether or not the Twins can hang on to win their division. But when a President is screaming GO BACK TO AFRICA at citizen lawmakers and when lawmen are forcibly, GLEEFULLY ripping children away from their parents, and when Trump’s spokesghoul is coyly asking people to identify their race before her, there is no sanctuary from such problems, nor should there be. That is when the political stops being political and becomes a human crisis, one that should be denounced from every rooftop and one that spurs conversations that easily seep into every aspect of American living, including the field of play.

It’s perfectly natural to wonder aloud how having an openly racist President affects athletes, especially those of color and those who may have come here from elsewhere. That’s a sports story, one that a sports industry eager to tie sports to everything else would seemingly be eager to lap up. But I guess it’s just too serious to delve into for fans who would rather ignore all the bad shit because they tactily approve of it. It is NOT natural to forcibly choke that discussion off so that some dude with an American flag in his Twitter handle doesn’t get a burr in his ass about it.

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Never mind that sports fans are deathly serious all the time about the game itself. We wouldn’t want to distract them with, like, reminders about the existence of racism. Screaming STICK TO SPORTS is just a cowardly way of voicing, in a highly political manner, that you cannot abide even the mildest of exposure to other political ideas—even just other people—whose very existence you resent. You are siding with leaders who prefer their transgressions remain discreet and you are indulging in an easy sop; a way to butter up alt-right mouthbreathers by promising, often insincerely, to keep politics to a minimum, in particular politics that make them uncomfortable. It is an obvious way of demonstrating your conflicting political ideology by being like CAN’T WE ALL JUST ENJOY SOME GOLF?

Anyone who says they wanna stick to sports is lying, because they’re the same motherfuckers who cheer for staged military family reunions during a TV timeout and/or boo NFL players who kneel for the national anthem. That playing of the anthem, by the way, is itself a political act, (Pitaro himself banished televising the anthem before NFL games on ESPN: an accidentally wise byproduct of his business model), but it just happens to be one accepted by the stick to sports crowd as good and normal and not to be fucked with. The anthem only becomes a politically charged ritual to them if you happen to protest it.

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It’s also a pedantic way of trying to put a commentator in their place. You, Laura Wagner, are woefully out of your element on the topic of gender inequality and only I, a random dude on the internet with American Chopper guy avatar, am well versed enough to understand the contours of this debate. Catering to anyone who uses STICK TO SPORTS as a form of not-so-passive-aggression is its own form of indirectly endorsing bad shit. The PGA is willfully hosting an event at a club owned by a corrupt President (the tourney was awarded to Trump’s course back when he was just a candidate, but still a poisonous and repulsive one) who will illegally make money OFF that event. They are complicit, and they know it. Waving their hands and going, “Oh well we simply don’t comment on political unpleasantries” is their way of absolving themselves of guilt by association. They can get fucked with a three-wood.

And so, barely beneath the surface of things, people who cry STICK TO SPORTS are expressing their fervent need to guard what should and what should not be allowed to breach the sphere of sports discourse. Anyone who dares to smuggle in takes about our racist fuckhead of a President or other socially relevant matters is branded as a troublemaker by these self-appointed sports bouncers, and as a financial liability by chickenshit execs who don’t dare cause a fuss. Anyone who wants to gawk at a $2.1 billion stealth bomber flying overhead gets a free bobblehead.

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There’s easy money to be made in kowtowing to racists and sexists and other hill people who think that sports is some magical oasis where you shouldn’t ever have to hear about all the ugly things. The PGA, among other places, has opted to chase that money, acquiescing to our laziest thinkers and then painting the whole endeavor in noble brandspeak. Sir this is a golf outing, sir. They have no shortage of sponge-brained champions of their non-cause.

This is now such a pervasive model of issue avoidance that when real life DOES intrude upon the playing field, and it does quite often, many athletes and coaches and talking heads and writers are hilariously ill-equipped to deal with it, inadvertently (and likely to their bosses’ pleasure) making such topics seem more out of place than they ought to be. Turns out that when sticking to sports is your priority, you end up sucking at discussing anything.

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Keep in mind that your local team has no real interest in sticking to sports. When they wanna have a military flyover during the anthem, they have one. When they wanna campaign for a new stadium bill and pledge that such a project could “clean up the toxic waste and be environmental stewards,” they do that, too. When they wanna stick with the nickname Redskins, they do, and then they turn around and complain that YOU’RE the one cramming politics where they don’t belong if you object to them doing it. You’re the one ruining everyone’s fun.

I have been on both sides (oh god that phrase) of this tussle. I have been a young, SportsCenter-addicted bro who would only read the red and purple sections of USA Today and throw the rest in the trash. I have also gone the full Lupica and carried my screeching liberal takes into sports-related matters, including the one you’re reading now. If you don’t want a C-SPAN3 feed to be your pregame show, fine. Literally no one wants that.

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I’d toss in a cursory “I get it” as frosting on the cake, but no. Fuck that. Because this isn’t about separating church and state for everyone. Hardly. This is really about another kind of segregation taking place: shunning those deemed unfit to bring their political takes past stadium security, and embracing dickheads who apparently need not worry about such restrictions. Thanks to the PGA following the sports world’s lead with their spineless, Jack Dorsey–esque bullshit, I know that this is what they really plan on sticking to.

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About the author

Drew Magary

Drew Magary is a Deadspin columnist and columnist for GEN magazine. You can buy Drew's second novel, The Hike, through here.