Should athletes have the right to talk politics?

In a very touchy subject, the sports-politics debates have been going on for a long-time.

U.S. track stars Tommie Smith (middle) and John Carlos (bottom right corner) on the cover of a magazine that came soon after the Summer Olympic games.

U.S. track stars Tommie Smith (middle) and John Carlos (bottom right corner) on the cover of a magazine that came soon after the Summer Olympic games.

Maddox Greenberg, Staff Writer

From the Tommie Smith-John Carlos statement in the 1968 Olympics to the many climactic events of 2020, professional athletes of all sports have talked about politics or political moments in time.  During the 1968 Mexico Summer Olympic Games, American track stars Tommie Smith and John Carlos, two African American men, raised their fists during the national anthem after they won gold and bronze in the 200-meter running event.  Smith, years later, mentioned in his autobiography that it was not a ‘Black Power’ salute per se, but a ‘human rights’ salute.  A few years back, San Francisco’s NFL team, the 49ers, quarterback Colin Kaepernick faced backlash from right-wing media and caused outrage when he (and soon multiple players) kneeled during the national anthem in protest to police brutality.  Soon, the 49ers released Colin and he is still a free agent for what he did.  That was back in 2016.  In the 2020 NBA playoffs in their bubble in Orlando, the Milwaukee Bucks (1st seed in the East at the time) boycotted their first-round matchup with the 8 seed Orlando Magic over the shooting of Jacob Blake by Kenosha, WI police.  During the 2020 season for the NBA and WNBA (others, too), both men’s and women’s basketball players have talked about the Black Lives Matter movement and for America to remember (and give justice to) people like Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.


These are just a few of the countless political actions athletes have made in the past and present.  Each statement faced criticism.  Right-wing news and media like Fox News have been attacking pro athletes like LeBron James and Colin Kaepernick over their political statements.  This continued to spark the debate: should athletes have a right to talk politics?


Some may argue they should not because it could damage their image and career and cause heat and backlash between the fans and the leagues.  Others may argue they should because they have the freedom of speech and should use their platform to be an activist.


In my opinion, you could play both sides.  If pro athletes mention something political that could leave a rotten taste in one’s mouth, then that athlete will face scrutiny.  But they do have the right.  Everyone has a political side.  If LeBron is a Republican and votes Republican (not saying he is, not saying he isn’t), he should speak Republican topics—but in a right area.  If athletes like Colin Kaepernick are on CBS after a 4 o’clock game in front of the nation and they want to talk about a sensitive subject that is political or a political moment in time, they could do so because of their platform.  An athlete, just like everyone, has an opinion and a right to speak and protest.  All around the sports world, athletes have held peaceful protests by kneeling during the anthem.  Ignore all the money they have.  Put it aside, put aside their team uniform and what do you see: a person with an opinion and a right.  We live in a time where people are freely expressing themselves, whether based on gender, orientation, race, religion, or political side.


Sure, fans watch sports to get away from the news and the other side of the world and all of its struggles: poverty, war, famine, climate change, elections, even death.  But soon you can’t hide from your problems, your struggles, the truth.  Right now, pro football and basketball are the most watched sports in America.  Athletes have this big stage, and they should make peaceful protests if they want to.  I remember a thing my dad said to me recently.  He told me a story of Howard Stern and what he said on one of his shows, “If you don’t like what I say, turn me off.”  I stick strongly to that line when it comes to this subject.  If fans don’t like the athletes protesting, then switch the channel.  But you soon can’t ignore it.  We can’t move forward without dealing with the changes going on right now.


During the Insurrection, I saw that ESPN posted it on their app.  It got me thinking: why should a sports app post something so political?  It reminds me of Fox News.  I’ve seen videos on YouTube of anchors like Laura Ingraham and Tomi Lahren and Tucker Carlson attack athletes when they say something political.  Why would you report on this? Why would a right-wing news show go into talking about sports?  Yes, they do have a sports division on the Fox channel, but this is a very big, very opinionated, very right-wing show.  Why would these anchors, whose purpose is to talk politics and their views of the Biden administration and what’s going on in the White House and the senators, go after pro athletes?  Same goes for CNN, ESPN and their shows like SportsCenter.  I’ve seen videos of people like Stephen A. Smith and Jay Whitlock talks politics on a sports show. Why? That is not your criteria as a sports broadcaster. Same for politically based news shows like CNN and Fox News. Talking sports isn’t your criteria as a political news anchor.


I am with the freedom of speech and the freedom to protest.  But looking at how political news show are talking sports and sports news show talking politics is mind blowing.  If you see or hear something you don’t like, don’t tune in.  Athletes should use their power of fame and the big stage they are on to demonstrate their views.  But I think shows like ESPN and Fox News and CNN should not go into the other’s world.  You have a freedom to speak, but also not to speak.  If you are an anchor on ESPN or Fox News or CNN and you see something you don’t like from the others side, don’t report on it.


I think that athletes should use their stage for making political statements, but I think it should be a non-verbal statement until after they are off the court/field/rink.  Put a message on your cleats or on your arm or wear a shirt pregame. Raise your first or kneel during the anthem.  But I think if you are wanting to say something, do it during a news conference or post/pregame interview.