Cheney Free Press -

Staff Reporter 

Get used to it – athletes engaging in politics are here to stay

Crunch Time


November 8, 2018

Last week, professional wrestlers John Cena and Daniel Bryan announced that they would not be participating in the World Wrestling Entertainment’s Crown Jewel event in Saudi Arabia.

The move shocked sports analysts and caused WWE stock to plummet, but Cena and Bryan held firm. In the wake of the brutal murder and subsequent cover-up of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi government agents, they refused to participate in one of the largest events ever hosted by their chosen sport.

In recent years, everyone from politicians and pundits to announcers and fans have weighed in on the acceptability of athletes expressing political opinions in the public sphere. It’s a topic that was catapulted into the spotlight following professional football player Colin Kaepernick’s high-profile on-field protest against police brutality, and has diminished little in the two years since.

But here’s the thing: this should they/shouldn’t they debate is treating an athlete’s political involvement as if it’s somehow a new concept. And news flash: it’s not.

In 1908, Irish athletes boycotted the London Olympic Games because of Britain’s refusal to grant Irish independence.

Sixty years later, heavyweight boxing champion of the world Muhammad Ali was drafted into the Vietnam War and refused induction. He was arrested, found guilty of draft evasion and ultimately stripped of his title and fighting license until the Supreme Court overruled his conviction in 1971.

American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos earned a first and third place respectively in the 200-meter race at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, leading to one of the most famous images in sports history. After receiving their medals and taking the platform for the national anthem, both men raised their fists in the “Black Power” salute to protest the treatment of minorities in the United States.

In 1980, 62 countries — led by the United States — boycotted the Moscow Summer Olympics after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan.  In response, the Soviet Union and other Warsaw Pact members boycotted the 1984 summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

Players have also spoken out about their religious beliefs, including NBA player Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf who closed his eyes and recited Muslim prayers during the “Star-Spangled Banner” and Jewish Major League Baseball right-fielder Shawn Green, who refused throughout his entire career to play on Yom Kippur.

To act as though athletes’ expressing their political opinions is a recent development is to willfully ignore sports history and the difference participants have made with their involvement in various causes over hundreds of years. And like it or not, this phenomenon is not going away.

To expect every single athlete in every single sport to stay silent on issues that they’re passionate about when they have a worldwide platform at their fingertips is flat-out unrealistic. Some may think it’s their job to play and keep quiet, while others will feel a responsibility to speak out on important issues due to their high-profile status. Opinions will vary because they’re human, not mindless game-driven robots.

The reality is that sports aren’t just for hometown high schools and little leagues. Sports are big business — giant corporations with money and influence. The figures that star in the games we play are no different, and in many cases have more power to effect meaningful change than politicians.

Sports and politics are inextricably intertwined, especially with the advent of live broadcasting and social media that mean fans can not only find out what an athlete thinks about a particular topic, but can applaud, question and criticize in real time.

On Nov. 2, an NFL cheerleader with the San Francisco 49ers kneeled for the anthem. Last month, Lorenzo Alexander of the Buffalo Bills hosted a community event that provided math and science labs for kids, free medical screenings and nonpartisan voter registration.

Let’s get real. Whether or not you think politics has a place in sports is irrelevant. It’s already there — and it’s not going anywhere, any time soon.

Shannen Talbot can be reached at


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