Sports and Politics: 1869 and 2019


Richard Hershberger

Richard Hershberger is a paralegal working in Maryland. When he isn't doing whatever it is that paralegals do, or taking his daughters to Girl Scouts, he is dedicated to the collection and analysis of useless and unremunerative information.

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47 Responses

  1. Avatar LTL FTC says:

    Segregation. ipso facto every single complaint about media coverage of non-straight-white male players in sports (from the left) carries with it the righteousness and gravity of the fight against those evils. It’s getting harder to tell whether articles like these come from an “arc of history” perspective or if we are just so inured to using painfully-stretched analogies to rope in visceral disgust to win a petty argument about basic cable talking heads that most folks just tune it out.


  2. Avatar Jaybird says:

    (If you want to see the last time we discussed this, you can do so here.)

    The main thing that I noticed was that we were all arguing about ESPN’s decision to back off of politics and we were all invested in it… but damn few of us watched ESPN ourselves. Like, to the point where I’m not sure that we had anybody who watches ESPN show up in the comments. (I mean, maybe they did… but I asked “But do we even have anybody on the site who watches ESPN?” and nobody jumped up to say “I do! I do!”… which is not, of course, anything near proof that nobody on the site watches ESPN. But we didn’t have any evidence in the comments there that anybody here does. Just that we have opinions about what ESPN shows despite our not watching it.)

    Which is wacky!

    I’ll repeat something that I said then:

    It’s like the people who didn’t play D&D who would rather I play Dragonraid.

    It’s like the people who didn’t listen to rock and roll who wanted me to listen to these groups and not those groups.

    It’s like the people who get upset that I’m choosing to not go see a movie.

    It’s like the people who get upset that I didn’t buy a comic book.

    It’s like the people who get upset that I didn’t buy a video game.

    For some reason, it’s somehow *IMPORTANT* that ESPN talk about politics (indeed! their choice to *NOT* talk about politics is a political one!).

    Anyway, the argument that everything is political reminds me of the argument of my youth that everything was religious and I had a choice between being Christian or being Worldly. I appreciate all of the volunteer moral authorities I have surrounding me explaining to me what I ought to enjoy (as opposed to the things I do enjoy). Thanks for trying to move the overton window to where it ought to be, guys!

    I hope you don’t mind when I, too, say things that aren’t quite in it.


    • Avatar veronica d says:

      It’s like the people who didn’t play D&D who would rather I play Dragonraid.


      But it isn’t like these things. It’s very different. If some business denies service to a trans person, that is different from which RPGs you decide to play. It doesn’t matter whether I personally shop there. If you cannot see the difference, I don’t know what to tell you.

      Many civil rights activists didn’t happen to live in the towns where blacks were denied lunch service. All the same, the recognized the moral evil of racism and joined the movement to change things. If, by contrast, someone started a movement to make you play RPG-1 versus RPG-2, then that just wouldn’t be the same. Not at all. Honestly, it’s batshit to think otherwise.

      Like, what the hell dude?

      I don’t watch ESPN, and I have no particular opinion on how the network should approach most issues. I don’t care about their balance between football coverage versus baseball coverage. Not my circus, not my monkeys. However, if they work to maintain a racist, sexist, or homophobic status quo, I care, for the same reason I care if some random diner in Birmingham has a “no colored” sign on its door.

      You seem to reflexively treat civil rights as a matter of taste. That is very wrong, and very political.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        If some business denies service to a trans person, that is different from which RPGs you decide to play.

        Oh, I wasn’t comparing “I’m not going to watch ESPN if they keep talking about politics” to “businesses should be allowed to deny services to people they don’t like”.

        I was comparing it to stuff like “people saying that they weren’t going to watch the new Ghostbusters” or that sort of thing.

        I don’t watch ESPN

        See? How weird would it be for me to tell you that you should watch ESPN even though it is not serving up the content that you look for in your leisure time?

        You seem to reflexively treat civil rights as a matter of taste.

        So the “ESPN should talk about politics!” debate is a civil rights thing, is it?

        I admit that I see this sort of thing as taking matters of taste and turning them into matters of morality and then proclaiming those who disagree to be sinners (or whatever the modern term for that sort of thing is).Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck says:

        Jaybird, the issue is that veronica is actually entirely okay with people’s recreational spaces being busted up if they permit activity and expressions-of-thought that society sees as immoral. She just doesn’t think her shit is immoral.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          If I were trying to get someone to move from “this is a matter of taste!” to “this is a matter of morality!”, I’d try to wander through “this is a matter of aesthetics!” first.

          (To be honest, the stronger “this is like trans rights!” comparison to non-politicos not watching ESPN is to trans people refusing to vacation in (homophobic state). I’m the one saying “if you don’t like it, don’t give them your money!” ESPN said “hey, wait… we want the money of those people who stopped coming here” and THEY CHANGED.)Report

      • Avatar Dark Matter says:

        I don’t watch ESPN, and I have no particular opinion on how the network should approach most issues. I don’t care about their balance between football coverage versus baseball coverage. Not my circus, not my monkeys.

        Yes, that. In the last 20 years I’ve watched one football game. If I could totally remove sports from my newsfeed I would.

        I’m not opposed to sports, I just have no involvement or interest other than the teams my kids join.

        However I also have no interest or involvement in trans rights. I’m not opposed. I’m not threatened.
        It’s your body, do what you will. But this is not an issue that calls to me.

        Insisting that it’s “political” that it doesn’t call to me is simply a power move.Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck says:

          The assumption is that saying you don’t care is in fact a political act because it’s an expression of the privilege that you have to not have to care.Report

  3. Do I need to say this is so many words? I watch sports on ESPN, especially baseball, but football too. But if they’re going to do political crap like firing Colin Cowherd for saying that baseball must be simple if Dominicans can play it, I may have to reconsider. Thank God good old apolitical Fox snapped him right up.Report

  4. Avatar CJColucci says:

    It’s certainly not true that everything is political; it’s just that, in sports as in so much else, almost nobody objects to the things that are political unless they disagree with the politics. As an ESPN watcher, I don’t pay much attention to the politics — any of the politics — but I swallow the ordinary political stuff and, when some out of the ordinary political stuff happens, wait for people who object to the out-of-the-ordinary politics to whine about keeping the politics, that is to say, somebody else’s politics, out of sports. I’m never disappointed.
    There is, to be sure, a principled case for keeping all sorts of politics out of sports, but the decision-makers aren’t interested in principle; they’re interested in what sells their product.Report

  5. Avatar PD Shaw says:

    As someone who actively participates in a sports blog with a “no politics” policy, I find the policy very satisfying and easy for everyone to understand and honor. I think it elevates the sports discussion and attracts a larger number of contributors.

    I can’t say that I watch ESPN hardly ever, and frequently I watch sports with the sound-off because the broadcasters usually are not that good and frequently start going off topic.Report

    • My guess is that by “no politics” they mean don’t post “Trump [or Pelosi] sux!” But what about when some NFL team signs a backup quarterback who isn’t Colin Kaepernick, and who looks very much like he isn’t as good as Kaepernick, either? Is it off limits to talk about how Kaepernick might have been a better choice, or is this off limits? Or if it is discussed, is it off limits to suggest that there might be some non-football related reason he wasn’t signed? And if the rule is we don’t talk about any of this, in what conceivable sense is that not political?Report

      • Avatar Dark Matter says:

        Is it off limits to talk about how Kaepernick might have been a better choice, or is this off limits?

        Better at throwing a ball? Perhaps. But the measuring stick is whether or not he makes the company more money. Dragging in hot button political issues into every game might not be in the best interests of the company. If I tried that in a public forum where I was representing the company, I’d be fired.

        A lot of who-gets-covered seems more “cultural” than “political” (unless everything is political but if everything is then nothing is).Report

      • Avatar PD Shaw says:

        It’s a baseball blog, and I don’t think Kaepernick ever comes up, or would expect to come up. The team it follows seems non-political (perhaps a little sanitized) and the site has an analytical bent. I’m not suggesting there aren’t interesting overlaps between sports and politics and culture, what I’m saying is that non-political forums are popular and can generate broader support than one’s that won’t, and I’m not shocked that mass-entertainments want to be massively popular and not divisive. The people who enjoy their sports within a political context are a minority, like Deadspin readers.

        I should also point out that the site also has a similarly enforced policy against racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, or other forms of discrimination. Again doesn’t come up much, and usually someone suggests they think a little more about what they just wrote. I don’t believe those are political issues.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck says:

      It’s been my experience that “no politics” is less about the Trump supporters than it is about the Not Trump Supporters who can’t keep their damn mouths shut and go into fits of scream-crying–and get angry when the rest of the board doesn’t join in.Report

  6. Avatar Mark says:

    Conflict is inevitable. We all have our personal interests and want those interests to prevail. There is nothing wrong with that. Politics is a way to resolve those conflicts through a process that requires give and take by all sides. This leads to dissatisfaction because the “winner” doesn’t get everything he wanted, but it avoids the obvious downsides of open combat. Our institutions give a great deal of weight to orderly transmission of property to avoid disputes. No one owns the right a professional sports position. Thus professional sports positions are always up for grabs and much less secure than many other prestigious profitable enterprises. African-Americans want in on these good things. They were clearly excluded for years. Sports in many ways actually led our society in opening up opportunities with Jackie Robinson representing a huge step. The sports world did not achieve these advances smoothly or uniformly; when John Wooden showed up to coach UCLA there only two blacks on the squad, and Warren Moon went undrafted despite an outstanding college career.
    We will keep politics out of sports when we keep conflict out of human relations. Not on this side of Elysium.Report

  7. Back when I had a long car commute, I used to listen to Jim Rome’s show*. One Martin Luther King Day, he took the day off and had two guest hosts instead, who spent much of the broadcast talking about what happened when Bear Bryant integrated the University of Alabama football team. Just political as all hell.

    * I know that my view that Rome is at heart a moralist is a minority one.Report

  8. Avatar Doctor Jay says:

    Once upon a time, I ran a guild in Everquest 2, along with two other friends. We had a “no politics” rule. We didn’t talk about political issues or events of the day.

    And, at the same time, we were gay/queer friendly. “That’s so gay” was a popular phrase in the MMO/pvp world at the time, and I had discussions with people who used it in guild chat. Usually privately or semi-privately. And I got a good response generally.

    So, the “no politics” rule didn’t stop us from acting on our beliefs, even those that might be political. It just headed off the discussion. But an MMO guild is a participatory thing, unlike a cable channel.

    Likewise, at a recent family reunion, one cousin came in and started complaining about Trump (he’s ex-military and a Democrat from the word go. His grandmother had all kinds of politicians from her city and county at her funeral). Another cousin, a Mormon and Republican simply said, “Do we talk about politics at these things?” Which got an abrupt halt out of the first cousin.

    I really like both of these guys, and they like each other, it seems to me.

    To me, this is a legitimate thing to do. And it’s also the case that sometimes the “no politics” is a smokescreen for “don’t upset the status quo”, as Richard indicates.Report

  9. Avatar Jaybird says:

    The Christmas Wars take many forms. I have no shortage of people in my life who say “MERRY CHRISTMAS” pointedly to minimum wage workers who say “happy holidays!” at the end of a transaction.

    The “you can’t avoid talking about politics” seems to have a similar thing going on. “Happy holidays” versus very pointed “MERRY CHRISTMAS”es.Report

  10. Avatar CJColucci says:

    Well, there’s nothing wrong with snarling “MERRY CHRISTMAS” to the happy holiday wishers.

    Well, no. One is politely saying an anodyne thing that happens not to be the preference of the hearer. The other is being an asshole.Report

    • Avatar JoeSal says:

      I’ll steal Chips majority rule routine for a moment and say “Let’s put this national religion thing up to a vote of The People!”. That whole separation of church and state thing, that’s just politics, and everything is political, up for a vote.


      • Avatar CJColucci says:

        “Let’s put this national religion thing up to a vote of The People!”.

        We did that, more or less, in the 1780’s, though some folks might want a do-over. But what has any of that to do with who is being the asshole in an ordinary social interaction?Report

  11. Avatar Pinky says:

    What do we mean by “politics”? I’ve been through a bunch of sports and politics conversations, and I think three different things get conflated under the word. First is discrimination by trait. It may relate to the sport in discussion, or sports in general. Outright bans, under-representation, pay gaps, ceilings, et cetera. Second is partisan endorsement or preference. Owners or players supporting a candidate or elected official. This now includes White House visits. Third is, I don’t know how to describe it – I want to say “other”, but that’s lazy. It’s the support of a policy rather than a person, and it’s not based in the sport itself. Discrimination policies may spill over from the sport to the broader world, but it’s easy to see how a sports conversation could lead to a discussion of race. A discussion of policing, less so.

    It’s interesting that Kaepernick’s controversy had nothing to do with his race, per se. It was squarely in my third category. I think it’s fine when athletes raise political issues, but I’m going to weight their opinion on their expertise and experience, the same as I would anyone else. I’d listen closer to an athlete on something like head trauma or NCAA reform, if they’d done the research, just like I’d pay more attention to a lawyer or a convict on criminal justice reform.Report

  12. Avatar Rene Randel says:

    Is this written by thee Richard “Roland” Hershberger of 6778 Abrego Road in Isla Vista at UCSB circa 1985? I’m the guy who borrowed, ok stole, your L.A. Times sports section the morning after Roger Clemons struck out 20. My wi-fi was down and I needed to “read all about it” asap. If it is you, and I have little doubt it is, please shoot me an email.
    Rene RandelReport