The Relationship Between Sports and Politics: Let’s Get Real

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The Relationship Between Sports and Politics are inextricably linked and have been colliding since the beginning of time from Jackie Robinson protesting the National Anthem to John Carlos holding up the black power fist during the Olympics.

Sports used to be simple:  Go to games, drink beer, have fun and be entertained. Now the relationship between sports and politics is so much more. 

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Sports figures are discussed around the dinner table, in nearly every part of our country, debating whether sports figures should be speaking out on politics and religion.

What is the Relationship Between Sports and Politics?

The sports world is bigger and more powerful than ever, with athletes demanding to be heard and they are not afraid to speak out because they have more influence than ever over our culture and our politics.

Athletes have always used their platform to speak out on racial injustices and Mr. Melvin Humes is no different.

Mr. Humes was one of the pioneers of the Negro Baseball League and he marched alongside Dr. King and was an essential part of the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham, AL.  I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Humes while working with the Birmingham Tourism Board to retrace the Civil Rights Movement.   The State of Alabama is tackling its long history of racism head-on, and they are encouraging everyone to ask the hard questions about race and the individual roles we play in the racially charged climate we find ourselves in this year.

Relationship Between Sports and Politics

Related Post: Alabama Civil Rights and How To Spend 3 Days In Memphis

While retracing the Civil Rights Movement we stopped by the newly opened Negro Southern League Museum, which gave me a glimpse into the lives of the first Negro League Baseball players in Birmingham. 

The Birmingham Black Barrons was organized in 1920 as the Birmingham Stars, one of the first eight teams in the Negro Southern League. That same year, Rube Foster organized the Negro National League in Birmingham, AL. 

The museum discusses the Relationship Between Sports and Politics through the eyes of the Birmingham Black Barrons. 

The African American players who paved the way for future athletes to not only play sports but to also have the freedom to speak out against social and political injustices. The Relationship Between Sports and Politics is not a new thing.

Relationship Between Sports and Politics | Entry of the musuem

The Power of Black Athletes

When top black athletes talk the public listens.  In many cases, athletes have more power than politicians. When the University of Missouri’s football team went on strike to protest the way the university handled racial tensions on campus, it led to the ouster of the university president.

This is just one of the many examples where black athletes protested against injustices and the Birmingham Black Barons were one of the first to stand up against racial injustices.

The Birmingham Black Barons were the longest running team in Negro League Baseball history. They were charter members of the Negro Southern League in 1920, and still had a team in the league in 1962 when it folded.

The Negro Southern League Museum also features a full-time research center that explores the integration of baseball, players from Birmingham who made it to the Major Leagues, and it features an exhibit on the Birmingham Industrial League.

The history of black baseball is so rich in Birmingham because of the Civil Rights Movement, and the baseball players that put their lives on the line to speak out against racism; social injustice, and the crimes that were being committed against people of color.

Why in 2018 are we still fighting for the right to be treated equally? Why are we still mad that there is a Relationship Between Sports and Politics?  What is wrong with players using their platform to speak out against social injustice?  Sports and Politics is not a new thing.

Where Athletes and Social Issues Collide

When several members of the St. Louis Rams made a “hands up, don’t shoot” gesture, to show their solidarity with people protesting the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, social media went crazy.

When LeBron James and his Miami Heat teammates wore black hoodies to show their support for slain Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, social media went crazy again.

 The issue then became whether athletes should even involve themselves in serious political issues. Should athletes keep their focus on the playing field, or do they have a right to speak out on social issues?

The Relationship Between Sports and Politics is nothing new so why all of the fuss now. Muhammad Ali and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar spoke out about Donald Trump’s idea to ban all Muslims from entry into the United States.

What, exactly, is the duty of the athlete when they see injustice?

We are not in a Post Racial Society

Racism has reared it’s ugly head in America once again and unfortunately.

I am not saying that Blacks have not made progress over the past half-century; of course, we have, and it has been impressive; but that does not negate the fact we have taken 10 steps backward.

I would never have thought in my lifetime that I would see something even remotely close to the Civil Rights Movement, but yet here we are again fighting about whether athletes have the right to speak out against social and political issues.

Is the Outrage really over the National Anthem?

#45 is leading a one-man crusade against NFL players who refuse to stand during the National Anthem. This is the latest example of a decades-long trend in which top athletes have used sports as a platform to express their political views.

#45 and his “Very Good People” have forgotten there has always been a Relationship Between Sports and Politics.  Athletes have always played a pivotal role in social and political issues; from Jackie Robinson to current day Colin Kaepernick. 

Why should black athletes only be good for one thing? Why should black athletes make you feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside and help your teams win, but not care about the social issues that they have dealt with their entire life? 

Let’s keep it real; this is more about white folk feeling threatened. This is about the denial of America’s ugly history and systematic oppression of one portion of its population.  

tweet from Donald Trump

Why Games Aren’t Just Games Anymore

Why pretend like this outrage, anger, and indignation is over the flag?  How many of you are at home reclining in the Lazy Boy while the National Anthem is being played, and if you are at the game; you take that time to go grab a beer and nachos?  

So is this really about the anthem or the flag?

This is about black athletes taking a stand and using their platform to have a voice.  Let’s get real.

Ask Yourself Why Are Athletes Really Protesting

Kneeling for the National Anthem has never been about disrespecting the troops, the flag or the U.S; but about police brutality, injustice in our legal system, and the systematic oppression of people of color.

How can #45 and his supporters have this faux outrage against kneeling because it is “UNPATRIOTIC”, but they are not offended when veterans come home to inadequate medical care, many are homeless, suffer from PTSD, and a great percentage of veterans are suicidal after they return from serving?

How can one be outraged over athletes taking a knee but not outraged over the way veterans are treated once we have used them up, and there is no longer a need for them?

Relationship Between Sports and Politics | Statistics on homeless veterans


Real Outrage vs. Faux Outrage

Athletes have every right to speak out on political and social issues.  Why should there be limits on where, when, and how athletes speak out or protest?

Why should athletes lose their jobs over their political views? When is it okay for black people to protest? Just in case you didn’t hear me the first time Sports and politics are not new.

Jackie Robinson stood his ground and spoke out against the way Black men were treated while expecting to serve in the military.  July 6, 1944; Robinson became entangled in a dispute that would threaten to end his military career in disgrace.

Robinson was ordered to move to the back of a bus, and when he refused; he was placed under arrest and his commander signed orders to prosecute him.  Robinson was eventually found not guilty on charges, and although we celebrate Jackie Robinson now; he was demonized the same way NFL players are being crucified and losing their jobs today.

Relationship Between Sports and Politics | Military Career of Jackie Robinson
Photo Credit: SlideShare

Athletes have every right to protest

I’m sorry the real world is being forced upon you when you really just want to sit back and watch a little football and drink a bud light.  We wouldn’t want a little thing like police brutality to make you feel uncomfortable while you are trying to enjoy your Sunday afternoon. 

We wouldn’t want the killing of unarmed black men and women to force a feeling of guilt upon you on the Sabbath now, would we?  But at the same time, when will we acknowledge our history there has always been a relationship between sports and politics.

Black athletes have spoken out against racial inequality since the beginning of time.

Kaepernick is not the first, and will not be the last athlete to call attention to social issues.

Muhammad Ali’s fight for racial equality stripped him of his ability to fight, cost him millions of dollars, altered his image, and caused him to be the most hated man in America. 

After Ali refused the draft, he spent the next four years in court fighting for his beliefs instead of fighting in the ring.   After his 1967 arrest for draft dodging, all of his boxing licenses were stripped. Ali’s boxing career was effectively over.

Relationship Between Sports and Politics | News article of Muhammad Ali
Photo Credit: Reddit

While many view Ali as a hero today, it wasn’t too long ago that he was being told to go back to Africa, being called a nigger, and losing his ability to fight. 

Should black folk be grateful that we receive less pay but work twice as hard? Should black folk be grateful we can now attend schools and eat at the same restaurants as white people?  Should we be grateful that we can live in the same neighborhood as white people?

Here are just a few who athletes who used their platform to speak out against social injustice.

  • Jackie Robinson

Jackie Robinson made history as the first Black MLB player and a catalyst for the end of racial segregation in professional baseball.  Jackie acted as a catalyst to the Civil Rights Movement and without his activism we would not be as tolerant or accepting of other nationalities in sports. 

Jackie Robinson was one of the biggest revolutionaries the world had ever seen. Through sports and speaking out on injustices he changed the course of history and politics.

  • John Carlos

Track and filed champion John Carlos was one half of the fearless duo that infamously made headlines with a Black power salute at the 1968 Summer Olympic Games.

  • Jesse Owens

Jesse Owens was an extraordinary track and field athlete who is one of the greatest sports figures in world history. In addition to discrediting Hitler’s myth of Aryan supremacy in sports by winning four gold medals at the 1936 Summer Olympics, Owens also became the first Black athlete to receive sponsorship from Adidas in 1960.

  • Jim Brown

Regarded as one of the greatest NFL running backs of all time, Jim Brown also used his platform to establish the Black Economic Union, which enlisted the help of professional athletes to establish Black-owned and operated enterprises, athletic clubs, and youth programs.

  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Apart from his professional career as an NBA legend, Kareem Abdul Jabbar is also a notable activist who has used his platform to spread awareness about the true value of African-American culture over the years. In 2012, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton officially confirmed him as a cultural ambassador for the United States. Sports and Politics

Kaepernick stated earlier this year “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media after taking a knee. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way.

There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

Make sure you take a road trip to Birmingham and visit the Negro Southern League Baseball Museum and see first hand how and why there needs to be a relationship between sports and politics.

Negro Southern League Baseball 

120 16th Street South
Birmingham, AL 35233
Phone: (205) 581-3040

Do you think athletes should use their platform to protest? Do you think there should be a relationship between Sports and Politics? 

I would love to hear your feedback so drop a comment below or head on over to FacebookInstagram, and Twitter!

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  1. I believe people are free to excercise their right to be heard. I believe in using your platform for what you believe. Sometimes we have to be the voice to the voiceless.

  2. I will be taking a trip to Birmingham so my son can learn more about the Negro League. And yes sports and politics go hand in hand. Athletes can be some of the greatest advocates for the communities they came from. We need our entire village to thrive.

  3. To be honest with you, I’m sorry that my kids have to grow up in their society. They don’t seem to understand history at all, which is why every single one of us is begrudgingly watching history repeat itself.

  4. Wow! I did not know that Birmingham Black Barons were the longest running team in Negro League Baseball history. I like when athletes and those in the arts use their platforms to raise awareness on an issue.

  5. It’s crazy, I think our country has forgotten about all those in sports who used their platform to speak out against injustice. They’ve been doing it for years.

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