Americans have often identified sports as iconic and patriotic symbols of Americana.
That’s especially true for America’s pastimes of baseball, NASCAR and football.
And it’s why some sports fans don’t appreciate it when people within the sports world get political — particularly if their politics are viewed as liberal or anti-American.
This week, sports, race and politics clashed in a way that attracted the attention of the White House.
Trump lashed out at ESPN on Friday in a tweet, claiming that the network was “paying a really big price for its politics” after “SportsCenter” host Jemele Hill labeled the president a “white supremacist” Monday. Hill’s remark came in a Twitter conversation about an article about musician and potential U.S. Senate candidate Kid Rock’s frustration with being labeled a racist, in part because he favors the Confederate flag.
ESPN is paying a really big price for its politics (and bad programming). People are dumping it in RECORD numbers. Apologize for untruth!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 15, 2017
On Wednesday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that Hill’s comments constituted “a fireable offense.”
NFL free agent Colin Kaepernick, who gained national attention for protesting racism during the national anthem at football games, tweeted his support for Hill the day after her tweets.
Kaepernick has previously called Trump “openly racist.” He felt the ire of Trump several times, and the president has taken credit for keeping the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback out of a job.
“It was reported that NFL owners don’t want to pick him up because they don’t want to get a nasty tweet from Donald Trump,” Trump said at a March rally in Louisville.
Also this week, a group of anti-racism protesters hung a banner over the Green Monster at Fenway Park that read “Racism is as American as baseball,” which remained in place for a few minutes before being removed by stadium security.
“We are a group of white anti-racist protesters,” the fans said in a statement. “We want to remind everyone that just as baseball is fundamental to American culture and history, so too is racism.”
Not all commentary from the sports world this week was in opposition to Trump. Former New York Mets star Darryl Strawberry did not approve of Hill’s comments.
“I think no one should call anyone anything,” said the former “Celebrity Apprentice” contestant. “President Trump, he’s a great man to me. He was always gracious to me.
“I never want to sit and point fingers at someone like the president of the United States,” Strawberry added. “He’s got a job to do, and we all need to pray for him, and we all need to support him, that’s what we need to do.”
Hill said she doesn’t have the luxury of being silent when it comes to political matters about race.
“I have to talk myself out of sending certain tweets several times a day,” Hill said at a Sports Illustrated event in August. “When you’re under the leadership of a president that refuses to condemn Nazis and racism, how am I supposed to function the rest of the day and pretend as if I give a s— about Blake Bortles losing his job?”
Many sports fans look to ESPN and the games they air for a respite from more difficult topics, and that desire accounts for their frustration with Hill. They don’t look to the network to hear people opine about systemic racism.
“I know there are sports fans looking for me to provide them with an ‘escape,’ but as a woman and person of color, I have no escape from the fact that there are people in charge who seem to be either sickened by my existence or are intent on erasing my dignity in every possible way,” Hill said at the SI event
Activism in politics isn’t a new phenomenon among athletes and the journalists and personalities who cover them, especially when it comes to addressing the topic of race. But using their platforms to talk about politics and race seems to be increasingly common since the election of former president Barack Obama.
Athletes including NBA stars LeBron James, Vince Carter and Grant Hill became more vocal in politics when they supported Obama’s first campaign.
Going into Obama’s reelection, Dallas Mavericks small forward Harrison Barnes said Obama inspired him to speak out on political matters.
“I want to be part of change,” he told The Post in 2012. “When I was young, I wasn’t really into politics much, but now that I am in the NBA I have a platform to speak on. I want to get involved and I want to help people.”
NBA legend Michael Jordan, who was criticized throughout his career for not speaking out on political issues impacting black Americans, finally got involved in politics during the Obama administration.
In addition to participating in a fundraiser for the first black president, he co-headlined a $20,000-a-plate dinner after it. And later in Obama’s administration, Jordan spoke out against the relationship between police and minority communities.
Hill predicted Obama’s influence on athletes nearly nine years ago, days after Obama was first elected in 2008.
“Having a president that looks like them seems to have inspired black athletes to be more vocal, and sparked a sense of solidarity that hasn’t been seen since the civil rights movement,” Hill wrote. “It was difficult not to notice how Obama’s rise to the White House struck an emotional chord with African Americans — especially in the sports world.”
The increased activism in the sports world that Hill and others promised would come with the advent of Obama’s presidency didn’t die when he left the White House. If anything, with how all-encompassing the Donald Trump political campaign was and the presidency has been, talking about politics and policy may be the new locker room talk.