Sports becoming political

Some general observations while growing sadder by the day at the interjection of politics and protests into our favorite pastimes:

While much of the nation was focused on the NFL on Sunday, and with it, the swirling of politically-charged tweets, high-profile-albeit-peaceful protests, and presidential rants, NASCAR had set up shop in New Hampshire, with high-flying flags and plenty of playoff excitement.

But in the midst of the first round of playoff races, politics intervened, as team owners and drivers were peppered with questions about the national anthem controversy brewing on the gridiron and around the nation.

Legendary NASCAR team owners Richard Childress and Richard Petty both made it clear to the Associated Press that they expected their teams to respect the flag during pre-race ceremonies; while Dale Earnhardt Jr. tweeted a quote from President John F. Kennedy reminding us of the right, and even the need to be able to protest peacefully.

And NASCAR issued this statement: “Sports are a unifying influence in our society, bringing people of differing backgrounds and beliefs together. Our respect for the national anthem has always been a hallmark of our pre-race events. Thanks to the sacrifices of many, we live in a country of unparalleled freedoms and countless liberties, including the right to peacefully express one’s opinion.”

NASCAR doesn’t tend to have the issues of protests by its teams, but then again, it also doesn’t have the same level of diversity as many other sports.

The first amendment gives us the right to express our opinions, and national sports give athletes a platform in front of millions to do just that. They have the chance to speak for those who feel they have no voice.

While the platform is often utilized, to raise money and awareness for breast cancer, for example, or to help hurricane victims to the tune of millions of dollars; in this case, an important message is overshadowed by a perceived disrespect of the American flag. There has to be a better way.

Last weekend the Penn State women’s basketball team hosted a leadership event for girls based on the principals of kindness and respect. They offered examples of encouragement.

I have to think that taking a stand like that could produce more positive outcomes in our society than vicious tweeting or kneeling during the national anthem.

Athletes enjoy a unique status in our society and in our pop culture. Their physical abilities set them apart from the rest of us mere mortals. That’s why their actions, whether between the lines or outside of them make such an impact.

Wouldn’t it be great if sports in general would use that opportunity to bring people together, to open a dialogue of important issues while also respecting one another?

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