Watch CBS News

Baffoe: If You Wanted Less Politically Vocal Sports Figures, Wrong Election

By Tim Baffoe--

(CBS) So in the Year of Our Lord (the McRib) 35, the United States of America has (through the electoral college) chosen Donald Trump to be its next president. Maybe you think that's a good thing, either because it will help you personally and/or you have a subconscious desire for a dystopia. But maybe you are really bothered by this, either because a Trump presidency poses a genuine risk of harm to you and your children if you're one of the very few people in this country who's a woman or a Muslim or an immigrant or disabled or a person of color or a puppy -- or you just don't hate those groups.

Well, guess what, sports fans? Athletes and other sports figures are just like you (except usually larger and better looking and faster). They also have emotional and even sometimes logical responses to politics, particularly in one of the most important elections in American if not world history. Know what else? That's good.

See, because as sports are always political -- whoa whoa whoa, yes, they are, get those fingers out of your ears and listen, ya silly goose -- the people actually involved in sports by consequence then have political opinions. And they shouldn't be discouraged from expressing them.

So if you wanted your jumpy, sprinty sports folks to be less vocal about American issues vis-à-vis our new President Skroob, I have bad news.

The Trump-specific sports political acts aren't new to the election results. Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman and Mexican-American Adrian Gonzalez refused to stay in Trump International Hotel and Tower when playing in Chicago earlier this season.

"I had my reasons," Gonzalez tersely stated last month.

Maybe those reasons had to do with the new Leader of the (Kinda) Free World being openly Latino-phobic. Or that U.S. relations with Mexico just got really testy. Can't say for sure, but the supposed-robot hitting machine guy being sentient is good. It creates discussion, just as an athlete like Dan Hampton refusing to join his team meeting President Obama creates one. Discussion is good (if it isn't on Facebook).

Newest World Series champion Jake Arrieta of the Chicago Cubs has some election thoughts too.

OK. That'll show 'em, guy who is currently an actor in a major insurance ad campaign. But, hey, Arrieta is sparking discussion in some Twitter bubbles where that might not normally occur. Some are Twitter-typically terrible (don't read the replies to the replies of that tweet, trust me) while some become more productive, such as informing Arrieta that what he tweeted has shades of coded anti-Semitism.

A tweet like that doesn't mean there was bigotry intended or consciousness, but maybe someone with his ear will let him know how to better choose his words in the future so as to create positives in discourse and not negatives. Maybe that person could even be someone whose grandfather and great-uncle wrote Casablanca. I then look forward to more public discussion and growth from the 2015 Cy Young winner.

The tweets from athletes that don't contain as much weight have a place in the arena, too. If it's just one word and excessive exclamation points, OK.

Or if it's in our newest language, GIFs.

There's stuff to unpack in messages like those, and they all have value to our collective sports intelligence that requires political intelligence. I know, I know that's difficult to accept for some of you who only want sports as -- ironically -- a safe space from the real world. Nope.

Just as some sports figures walk the very safe line of injecting themselves into the conversation as they feel is their celebrity duty while doing nothing more than watering it down.

Hey, none of the hands-across-America stuff helps people who fear they'll be put in internment camps or have their voting rights reduced, but thanks for stepping out? And if we are going to condone such milquetoast out of sports people, we as critical thinkers must appreciate political thoughts that show much more critical thinking.

Take former Chicago Bears safety Ryan Mundy, who in a string of tweets Wednesday said:

"Clearly there is another America existing that due to algorithms we have become unaware of. There are outliers here and there but generally your social media interactions are with people who are just like you & share similar views. Furthermore your social media interactions are reflected in reality and information in take. Leading to a very narrow paradigm. So I believe it's a shock to a lot of people that Trump won because they became victim to a limited view of the world. Get out your bubble. Learn. Grow. Experience. Becoming insulated leads to a major blind spot."

Well I'll be damned. That's a reasoned, non-partisan explanation of something culturally problematic -- from a sports dude.

Then there will be athlete discussions that certainly skew right or left. Curt Schilling is basically a neo-Nazi, but his words are important because recognizing his type is important, painful as listening to him is for decent humanists. Just as it's likely painful for ignorant people to read intelligent, socially involved Jabari Parker tweet:

"Personally, whenever I see 'Make America…' I see a time in place where slavery was still alive and women's rights weren't practiced. . . . I have friends who are Female, Latino, LGBT, muslim, and black. I will not support anyone who disrespects my friends. . . . Even if you're openly racist and supportive of a racist, I still love you. I won the internal battle since a teen. I'm open to your scorning."

All Schillings and Parkers are important to the stew of political discourse, even if one tastes more rancid than the other. Because if I demand one shut up, I'm a hypocrite for condoning the other, and I'm no hypocrite, ladies and gentlemen, except when I say I don't eat cheese (except if it's a well-meated pizza -- don't @ me).

Ditto the more longform talkers like Warriors coach Steve Kerr, who was asked about the election Wednesday and chose not to give a cliché or clipped answer.

A coach -- the job in sports where thoughts are often kept closest to the vest -- being so candid about life beyond Xs and Os is important, even more so if it bothers you. Because it's when we are bothered, when we're most uncomfortable that we have the greatest opportunities to grow and learn. It's then your choice to seize that opportunity or try to turtle into a safe space of sports that will never again exist.

Sports people can't and shouldn't and thankfully will not #sticktosports. Our new President-elect has ensured that. Which, glass-half-drank-and-refilled-and-drank-again, is cool.

Tim Baffoe is a columnist for Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.