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Sunday, August 2, 2020

The End Of Sports As We Know It–The Politicization Of Our Only Free Space, Our Only Refuge

It all started with Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling for the National Anthem at a professional football game.  His refusal to stand – regardless of the reverence he claimed for his cause, he was not out of sympathy but out of defiance to the America which was being honored.  His insistence that kneeling was a profound  and very American religious expression in the tradition of Martin Luther King rang untrue for everyone in the stands who knew immediately and instinctively  that this was an act of dishonor and disrespect, not one of Christian sentiment.  More and more NFL players followed suit and refused to stand for the Anthem, they said, in a prayerful spiritual unity against racial injustice, and more and more Americans turned away.

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When criticized and attacked for what many considered was an unpatriotic gesture, especially by those who had benefitted from America’s culture of opportunity, the racial tolerance of the League now over 90 percent black, and who had made hundreds of millions of dollars in doing so, the players cited ‘freedom of expression’.  Once again no one was fooled.  Such overtly political and disruptive displays of protest would never be allowed in their offices or workplaces. Workers who pulled out of an assembly line and let the gears, cans, or car parts pile up would be summarily fired.  Anyone consistently disrupting department meetings through political protests unrelated to the workplace would be warned, disciplined, and dismissed.  Freedom of expression has its place, but not when it is counter-productive, divisive, and damaging to the cohesive environment necessary for productive work.  The streets have always been the place for peaceful protest and demonstration, not the office, the factory, or the sidelines of NFL football games.

The violent, uncivil, and largely disjointed protests that have turned many of America’s cities into war zones are products of the principle of minority rule according to which any action by anyone formerly ‘oppressed’ is not only justifiable but called for.  Progressives have championed Kaepernick and his colleagues for their long-overdue protest against racism and institutional whiteness. They have stood by while callow local politicians have heeded calls for the dismantling of the entire system of law and order and watched their cities burn.  Ordinary Americans have been the victims of this riotous, destructive, and murderous rampage; but progressives say that because of their systemic, innate, and deeply-rooted racism, they deserve whatever they get from these righteous mobs. 

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Politicians have sat back like Nero when Rome burned, whistlin’ Dixie while courts, businesses, police and fire stations have been destroyed; and have agreed with the violent cancel culture which has provided cover for vandalism and anarchic revisionism.  Every accusation of ‘racism’ is taken on face value, due process abrogated, and no historical figure is safe from accusations of prejudice and racial hatred.

The media have been complicit in both the riotous protests and the cancel culture.  Commentators on all but the most conservative outlets have likened the violence to the Boston Tea Party, the righteous indignation of Americans oppressed by the British.  Violent protest is at times necessary and called for, they say.  Progressives have ironically espoused the philosophy of ultra-conservative politician and former Presidential candidate Barry Goldwater who said, “Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice. Moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue.”  This laissez-faire attitude towards incivility, violent revisionism, and venal demands, has increased the divisiveness which has riven America in the last decade.

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It gets worse.  Now owners of professional football and basketball teams have agreed to allow symbols of political protest to be displayed on jerseys and helmets.  Any player in the NBA or NFL can affix the logo of Black Lives Matter, a silhouette of blacks who died in police custody, and presumably any other anti-image.  Once the door to ‘individual symbols of protest’ has been opened, there will be no stopping the excess.  Uniforms will be as festooned with political images and slogans no different from the commercial advertising covering every inch of race car drivers, but unlike them, they will be selling nothing but angry, inchoate protest. 

This permissiveness is expected from owners whose teams are almost completely black.  They have nothing to lose and everything to gain, they say, by letting players be themselves.  Self-interested owners disingenuously assert that political expression around a common cause may in fact be a good thing for solidarity and teamwork.  Yet they do have something to lose.  Not only are the vast majority of those who follow football and basketball white, but they are middle-class, middle-American whites who feel increasingly badgered and hectored by coastal elites who assume their ignorance, their primitive conservatism, and their mindless faith.  Most have had enough of this universal criticism and this promotion of the interests of the few to the disadvantage of the many.  Just as the NFL saw attendance and viewership decline after the Kaepernick episode, so will it see further declines once the professional sports season resumes.

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Perhaps the worst, incalculable damage done by these protests is the infection of the one area of American life untouched by political anger – sports.  One could formerly tune into college or professional sports knowing that it would be free space, an issue-free sanctuary. Players, announcers, and fans had only one thing in mind – playing the game and winning.  Viewers were thrilled by a broken-field run, an acrobatic catch, a graceful leap to the basket, precision three-point shooting, aggressive defense, and quarterback field intelligence.  Sports were exciting and fans were passionate about their teams. College football in the South was as close as anything comes to religion.  Saturdays were days of celebration, enthusiasm, and camaraderie.  Over 100,000 fans filled Bryant-Denny stadium in Tuscaloosa very week to watch the University of Alabama Crimson Tide.  It was an exuberant, happy three hours of respite from the increasing emotional ravages of the outside world.

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Now that unique, very American, and absolutely necessary refuge has been denied.  The innocence of sports has been sullied.  The anger, resentment, and hostility forced upon Americans by the unrestrained, ambitious, and violent few and their white supporters has now invaded Boston Garden.

Some sports have been relatively unaffected by these protests; but hockey, a sport with few black players, has a relatively small fan base.  Baseball, thanks to its large number of Latin and white players has seen few racial protests, but its once dominant demographics have eroded over the years, and its fan base is aging.

One can only envy the skier who takes the first lift to the double-blacks at Aspen and carves a trail in the newly-fallen snow; or the fly fisherman on the Yellowstone, or the solitary hiker in the Absarokas.  Escape from the raucous, insistent noise of political protest, unremitting social demands, and continued hostile criticism is increasingly impossible.  We are invaded by invidious attacks, pursued by insistent demands.  Refuge, solitude, peaceful reflection is impossible and joyous, collective sports celebration is now a thing of the past.

Image result for image downhill skier on first run on double blacks

This political anarchy and divisive hostility is infectious.  No family gathering, no Sunday dinner, no religious observation is immune.  Families are divided, children all too quickly lose their innocence and optimism.  Conversation is avoided rather than sought out.  We have become besieged.

This too will pass, say progressive instigators of civil unrest and racial protest, once white America has been purged of its insidious, innate racism and a new, more just and equitable nation emerges from the social revolution.  Most others, however, feel that the nation will never recover; and that it will become one of constant irritability, dissatisfaction, and anger.  The damage has already been done, and it is irreparable.

Many looked forward to first pitch of Opening Day, the first tip-off of the NBA season, the first down of the new football season.  Many fewer will do so this year.

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