I may not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend your right to say it. Unless it involves politicizing sports, in which case I won’t defend it even if I agree with you.
Many sports fans feel the same way (just ask pro quarterback-turned-political activist Colin Kaepernick). Yet, two major sportswear companies last week continued the unwelcome trend of gratuitously inserting politics into sports.
Adidas aired a new commercial during Wednesday’s ESPY’s showing an “Indians” jersey being taped over while a voiceover suggests the team should change its name because it’s offensive.
Not to be outdone by its competitor, Reebok Twitter-shamed President Trump for making what it considered to be a sexist compliment to a world leader’s wife. Friday’s viral tweet included a nifty flowchart outlining “when it IS appropriate to say, ‘You’re in such good shape…beautiful.'”
Both companies received strong backlash on social media – and deservedly so. They weren’t practicing corporate social responsibility, which concerns whether a company’s own behavior has negative impacts on environmental and social well-being. Rather, they were sanctimoniously virtue-signaling about others’ behavior. And neither company is really in a position to moralize.
Despite multiple polls, including one in 2016, showing 90 percent of Native Americans aren’t offended by teams named after them, Adidas has decided it knows better. The German company launched an initiative to help United States high schools change “potentially harmful Native American” logos and mascots.
Nevermind that Adidas is currently a corporate sponsor and official outfitter of the Edmonton Eskimos, a Canadian Football League team whose name has been condemned as offensive by media and Inuit organizations. Let’s also disregard the 2012 sneaker line featuring “slave”-like shackles that Adidas canceled after public outcry.
Reebok’s indignation is equally laughable, given its history of ad campaigns which, according to Jezebel, promote “blatant objectification of women.”
For example, a 2009 commercial showing only a woman’s breasts encourages women to “Make your boobs jealous!” by using Reebok sneakers to tone their butts and legs. In a 2012 poster ad pulled following significant criticism, Reebok urged customers to “Cheat On Your Girlfriend, Not Your Workout.” And let’s not get into Reebok’s penchant for sponsoring rappers notorious for sexist and misogynistic lyrics.
The obvious hypocrisy aside, getting political is risky business given our country’s diverse demographics and divided politics. Unless an issue directly impacts business (such as net neutrality with tech companies), companies are wise to remain apolitical rather than risk alienating customers.
Sports-related merchants should be especially careful. As Michael Jordan reportedly said, “Republicans buy sneakers, too.”
Political speech, whether liberal or conservative, has consequences in sports. Hank Williams lost his Monday Night Football singing gig in 2011 when he attacked former President Barack Obama. Most recently, ESPN‘s and the National Football League‘s ratings have suffered, and several experts blame it on their mixing of sports and politics. Kaepernick is unemployed, after being ostracized by teams due to the controversy surrounding his national anthem protests.
This isn’t to suggest that the government should ban political speech in sports, like the Olympics does. But athletes, journalists, and businesses who politicize sports shouldn’t be surprised when they inevitably get rebuked or boycotted. For many people, sports offers an escape from the real world, particularly our increasingly-aggravating politics.
National Review’s Jim Geraghty put it best: “I just want to enjoy watching the game. Nobody watches sports because they want to raise their level of ‘social awareness.’ Nobody tunes in to Monday Night Consciousness-Raising.”
And I just want sportswear that’s affordable, comfortable, and stylish. Nobody buys running shoes or jerseys because they’re woke.Mark Grabowski (@ProfGrabowski) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. He is a lawyer and a journalism professor at Adelphi University in Garden City, N.Y.
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