Normally, I consider it a positive quality to be able to see the world in several shades of gray. Few things in this world are clearly one way or the other. That is why I love sports. Sports are, at its core, the ultimate meritocracy. There’s a winner and a loser, and the outcome is seldom in question — a rarity in a world that’s mostly gray.
When news broke that Colin Kaepernick took a knee for the national anthem in protest of racial inequality, it was quite the scandal. There are damning reports that NFL general managers and many in the league have gone on record to say the reason Kaepernick does not have a job is because he took a knee for the anthem. No other reason.
You cannot even mention Kaepernick’s name without crazy vitriol. It is a strange thing. A man not even in the league is still commanding the most attention from fans on both side of the issue. There are many who show support over Kap’s values and others who completely detest it.
Many have expressed their desire for sports writers to “stick to sports,” because some fans say it is their way to escape current events, politics, race and gender issues and so on. Well, although Kaepernick is a controversial figure, I won’t stick to sports and this is why.
Those who insist athletes have no right to insert problems of society into sports miss the obvious: sports have never been completely separated from politics, from race, from gender, from business, from society. Sports are, and always have been, a miniature characteristic of our society and where it stands.
Some do not have the privilege to just stick to sports. Consider the different eras in which athletes fought for certain things. There is no need to name them all, because all true sports fans know Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did not “stick to sports”. At some level, they and others fought for equal rights, equal pay and what they went through in their era was a microcosm of where society stood at that time.
Could you imagine telling Jesse Owens to stick to sports when he won four gold medals in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, at a time when Adolf Hitler planned to use the Games as a showcase for his absurd belief of Aryan superiority?
Augusta National Golf Club is one of the most famous golf clubs in the world. It did not allow African Americans until 1990. In fact, the club’s bylaws insisted that all caddies be black. It did not allow women until August of 2012. It even refused sports enthusiast and former secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice until five years ago. Five years ago.
Assimilating black talent into sports or the elevation of the first woman referee, the first woman coach, the value of the unions and the fact billionaire NFL owners lobby politicians and build stadiums with taxpayer money, league-wide government subsidies and tax breaks, go beyond the realm of sports. These are huge social issues. Fans rarely tell the writers to stick to sports, because these topics help us understand how things work in the sports world, but also the world in general — the good and the bad.
And for many of us female sports fans, we have loved sports even when they did not love us. Even when sports told us we did not belong. We love the game although there is still a constant feeling to prove ourselves. When I and many other women show knowledge about a sport, the go-to question is “How did you become such a big sports fan?” My answer is usually the same: “I grew up in the Bay Area, an area with a rich sports history — the Battle of the Bay, Run TMC and an NFL dynasty that brought home five Super Bowl victories. How could I not be a sports fan?” This question comes up a lot, but I suspect it does not for most men. Because they’re guys. Apparently, because I have a uterus, it is completely astonishing that I can explain the difference between a 3-4 and 4-3 defense.
Watching sports with an escapism of political, racial, gender or societal issues is a privilege some of us have never been afforded, because many of us are just perceived as outsiders. And, because it is a business and times are changing, major league sports is beginning to recognize this and see the profit in finally including a new demographic. Not because we are welcome, but because there’s money to be made.
Before I was a writer, I was a reader. And, some of the best social writers in history were also the greatest sports writers. Ernest Hemingway showed how baseball can bring people together. And, Jack Kerouac is a literary icon and was a sports fanatic. These writers used sports as a metaphors in their writings to explain what was happening in the world and it was something that was relatable, lovable and as sports do — they inspire passion.
And, while sports may be arbitrary and there is a clear winner and loser, we root for our teams whether they win or lose. And, there’s pride in that. No matter how terrible their teams are, fans persevere. You have good years and bad years, but no true fan abandons her roots in search for greener pastures. And, to write about sports, you need to love the game. Some of us do it gratis, because of passion alone.
But because we write about sports, it does not mean we are not human beings. As a sports writer and a woman, it impossible for me to separate sports from my experience as a female. It is difficult for most writers to separate sports or their journalism from their morality. And it is becoming increasingly difficult for many athletes to separate their sports sides from their human sides, to separate sports from their morals.
But that is what makes sports compelling. Sports can reflect the best and worst of our society and it allows us to reflect on what we believe and value. And, let’s face it, athletes like Colin Kaepernick can and should use their platform to help us understand our world just a little bit better — to elevate those voices that aren’t always heard.
So writing about Kaepernick and others taking a stand for what they believe is right helps us to understand where our current society is at this place and time. So, no, I will not stick to sports and I will not stop talking about Colin Kaepernick.