If you want all your favorite athletes to “stick to sports” and stay out of politics, you’re going to wind up disappointed, the Wall Street Journal’s Jason Gay says.
On the latest episode of Recode Media with Peter Kafka, Gay argued that, as a huge part of American culture, sports have always been political. He said the NFL players like Colin Kaepernick who have knelt during the national anthem to protest police brutality and oppression of African-Americans are just the latest in a long legacy of athletes over the decades.
“I understand the impulse [behind the backlash],” Gay said. “Like, ’This is presumably entertainment, and I just want to watch a terrible Dolphins-Jets game,’ and not have part of the telecast become a conversation about a much headier topic. However, our ability to deny a very lengthy history of sports at all levels — and I really do mean at all levels — collegiate sports, professional sports, high school sports, kids’ sports, you name it. Little league is political as hell!”
“To deny the long, long history of social activism in sports in this country is just crazy,” Gay added. “I can’t believe we’re actually reverting to some antiquated argument that sports cannot actually be synthesized with politics at all; that because you’re a professional athlete, somehow your opinion is invalid. I just reject it completely.”
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Gay said the NFL’s historical lack of loyalty to its players makes the #TakeAKnee protesters especially brave. The League has been known to cut players quickly after they get injured.
“Very few are promised a tomorrow in the NFL; in fact, the famous joke-acronym is that NFL stands for ‘Not For Long,’” he said. “That says to me some of the actions of these individual athletes are quite courageous. I know it’s anathema to suggest to people that folks who are paid oftentimes millions of dollars to play a sport are somehow courageous, but it’s the truth.”
He also pushed back on the “nonsense” idea that cable sports channels like ESPN are getting “too political” by talking about the protests or making an effort to feature more women and people of color on the air.
“How much politics is actually on the air?” he asked. “It’s politics that a significant segment of the country disagrees with, so I can get that there’s blowback, but it’s not like they come on ‘Around the Horn’: ‘Okay, guys, we’re going to do tax reform for 10 minutes! What do you think, Pablo Torre?’ That’s not happening! They are sticking to their bread and butter 99.99 percent of the time.”
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This article originally appeared on Recode.net.