Prof. Amy Bass, history, College of New Rochelle, called sports a “great place to find politics” and argued that athletes should be allowed to advocate for causes in a lecture last Thursday.
Bass challenged the notion that sports are or should remain apolitical, arguing that athletes live inherently political lives.
“An athlete shouldn’t have to stop being who he or she is, the moment he or she steps onto the pitch, or the court, or the track, or the field,” she said.
Instead, she argued, athletes should be able to use the sports arena as a platform to make social or political statements.
“The modern black athlete, in this equation that pairs visibility with progress, is perceived to compete on a playing field that has been smoothed out to create equal opportunity,” Bass said. “In this scenario, sports exist in this vacuum without politics, but we know better.”
Citing examples such as the Black Power salute raised by a gold medalist sprinter at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, Bass argued that the sports arena has historically always been a political space.
“The triumphs of Jesse Owens at the Berlin Olympics, situated as this defilement of Hitler’s ideologies of Aryan supremacy,” she said. “The 1938 boxing match between Joe Lewis and German Max Schmeling, which was situated as this battle between democracy and fascism. The integration of major league baseball in 1947, with Jackie Robinson being placed as the beginning of the end of segregation in America.”
However, Bass said that not all protests are treated equally. While the Boston Tea Party is memorialized, sports protests, like Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem, are routinely criticized, according to Bass.
“What kind of protest is disrespectful and what kind is part of our national history that we revel in?” Bass asked. “When is protest something we are proud of, and when is it something in which we hurl words like ‘ungrateful’ at the protester?”
Bass gave the example of Lindsey Vonn, the Olympic alpine skier who, in an interview with CNN last December, said she would reject any invitation to the White House because she said Donald Trump did not represent the values of the American people.
The outcry against Vonn, Bass said, contrasted with the public reaction to Mike Pence, who was seen seated when the united Korean delegation took the stage during the opening ceremonies of the Winter 2018 Olympic Games.
Bass questioned why Pence’s protest was considered acceptable, yet protests such as Lindsey Vonn’s refusal to visit the White House or Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the anthem were not.
But beyond the political ability to make statements, Bass argued, sports have the strength to unite people and bring opposing groups of individuals together.
Citing the original Olympic Games in Ancient Greece, she described how the games were founded on the idea that all disputes and disagreements between the city-states should be put aside in favor of sportsmanship and peace.
“The Greeks didn’t see the Olympics as eliminating politics from daily life,” she said. “Rather, they saw sport as a way to visualize peaceful resolutions to political problems.”