Plea to pro ath­letes: Stop politi­ciz­ing the games

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials - BY JOSEPH CURL

Things are out of hand with the Na­tional Foot­ball League. And the Na­tional Basketball As­so­ci­a­tion. Now, in­stead of sim­ply play­ing the games, ath­letes want to make po­lit­i­cal ges­tures — grand state­ments of anger and angst. Pol­i­tics has now in­fil­trated ev­ery as­pect of life, but sports had held out the long­est. Awards shows like the Os­cars and the Gram­mys were the first to fall, then TV shows (even sitcoms), then late-night com­edy shows (re­mem­ber when Johnny Car­son did 90 sec­onds on pol­i­tics — spank­ing both sides — then moved on?)

Now, pol­i­tics is ev­ery­where, and there’s no es­cap­ing it — even on Sun­day af­ter­noon.

Ath­letes used to steer clear of pol­i­tics, choos­ing to let their skills on the field of play speak for them. Asked about the news of the day, they’d evade: “Let’s talk about the game.” And that’s how it should be — no one cares what Tom Brady or LeBron James thinks about the pres­i­dent’s de­ci­sion on … any­thing.

On Mon­day, Mr. Trump — feel­ing dis­re­spected that the Su­per Bowl cham­pi­ons, in a purely po­lit­i­cal ges­ture, planned to send fewer that 10 peo­ple to the White House for a cel­e­bra­tory event — un­in­vited the team.

“The Philadel­phia Ea­gles are un­able to come to the White House with their full team to be cel­e­brated to­mor­row,” Mr. Trump said in a state­ment. “They dis­agree with their Pres­i­dent be­cause he in­sists that they proudly stand for the Na­tional An­them, hand on heart, in honor of the great men and women of our mil­i­tary and the peo­ple of our coun­try. The Ea­gles wanted to send a smaller del­e­ga­tion, but the 1,000 fans plan­ning to at­tend the event de­serve bet­ter. These fans are still in­vited to the White House to be part of a dif­fer­ent type of cer­e­mony — one that will honor our great coun­try, pay trib­ute to the heroes who fight to pro­tect it, and loudly and proudly play the Na­tional An­them.”

Then ev­ery­one weighed in. And we mean ev­ery­one.

By Tues­day af­ter­noon, Mr. James and Stephen Curry, whose teams are squar­ing off now in the NBA Fi­nals, said nei­ther the Cava­liers nor the War­riors would be in­ter­ested in vis­it­ing the White House any­way.

Mr. James, asked about Mr. Trump’s can­cel­la­tion, said, “I ac­tu­ally just found out about it. It’s typ­i­cal of him. I am not sur­prised. I mean, I know no mat­ter who wins this se­ries, no one wants the in­vite any­ways. It won’t be Golden State or Cleve­land go­ing.”

Last year, Mr. Trump took to Twit­ter to un­in­vite Mr. Curry and the Golden State War­riors from vis­it­ing the White House amid re­ports the NBA champs were hav­ing a team meet­ing to de­cide whether to go. The mess spi­raled. The whole team de­cided not to come. NBA stars took to Twit­ter to fire back. It was ugly.

Then dur­ing last year’s NFL sea­son, Mr. Trump called out the play­ers who dis­re­spect Amer­ica by kneel­ing dur­ing the na­tional an­them. That brought more re­ac­tion from ath­letes and own­ers. Last month, the NFL set a new pol­icy ban­ning play­ers on the field from kneel­ing dur­ing the an­them.

But let’s keep this all in per­spec­tive. Nearly 50 years ago, Pres­i­dent Richard Nixon in­vited sports teams to the White House. Did they all — ev­ery player — agree with Nixon? Sup­port the Viet­nam War? Did they do the same for Ron­ald Rea­gan? Ge­orge Bush? Barack Obama?

Of course not. But they went to the White House be­cause the pres­i­dent in­vited them. They were civil, adult, ma­ture. And when the pres­i­dent in­vites you to the White House, you go.

So here’s the big point: There’s no place for pol­i­tics in sports. None. Sports is, for the viewer — you and me — an es­cape from the real world, where we can watch finely tuned ath­letes play a game at the very high­est level. No viewer cares a whit whether Bryce Harper agrees with the pres­i­dent on trade tar­iffs — nor should they. It’s a game — just play it (and make mil­lions while you do it).

Like any Amer­i­can, play­ers are en­ti­tled to their opin­ions, po­lit­i­cal and oth­er­wise.

Just take it off the field and the court. Joseph Curl cov­ered the White House and pol­i­tics for a decade for The Wash­ing­ton Times. He can be reached at josephcurl@ gmail.com and on Twit­ter @josephcurl.

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