Sunday, October 13, 2019

But Now for Something Completely Different - Sport.

With great thanks to Monty Python. I had no idea that you could read all of the episodes online.

But back to sport. I was thinking the other day, after China rolled its collective ankle over a pro-Hong Kong tweet by a Houston Rockets executive, about the time in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when athletes adopted Islamic names. I know, I know; how quaint, right? An athlete changing their name to match their religion today would yield precious little backlash on the social media.


I also remembered Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their fists at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. And having the Australian who won the bronze sympathize with them. And Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. And Ahmad Rashad. And the others. There was a significant backlash, but on the end, sports enthusiasts generally accepted the changes.

Money changes everything. Remember when Micheal Jordan refused to get involved in the political debates of the 1980s and 90s? Or the relative peace within the Olympic movement after the fall of apartheid and the Soviet Union? Those days are now gone. Sports is a huge business, and having the Chinese buy stuff is every sports marketer's dream. That's why the tweet was a wake up call. The temperature lowered a bit at the end of the week, but this episode will not go away.

The athletes who now represent their sports grew up in the same political and social milieu as the rest of us, and they see themselves as more than just paid athletes. They are role models, ambassadors, social media stars and, yes, political animals. They speak out against police actions, injustice, sexism, economic inequality, and now, international affairs. Well, at least the team executives do. I also remember when American athletes protested the Gulf War and the invasion of Iraq. They were not labeled traitors. Carlos Delgado, who played for the Mets, and is not an American citizen, came under criticism for not coming out of the dugout for the national anthem. Sports radio provided lame attacks, but in the end, he didn't change his behavior. Lebron James tweets back when the president attacks him.

And honestly, someone has to stand up to the Chinese. They have had an outsized influence on the world economy because sellers want to sell to a billion people. But when we are, I believe, on the brink of a Chinese incursion into Hong Kong, someone also has to stand up for justice and democracy. It's not going to come from the White House, so it might as well come from more famous people who have morals. I understand that some of the athletes want to keep their noses out of the fray. Self-preservation, higher salaries and all that.

If you want to stand up to a bully, though, you need to have the right argument. And we do.

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