It’s almost impossible to separate sports and politics today

In Politics
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This is what social critics have wanted.

This is where sports entertainment meets the real world of prejudice, choice, justice, political awareness and the sphere outside one’s immediate self.

The Golden State Warriors won the NBA championship Monday. Almost immediately, there were rumors they would not, as a team, visit President Trump’s White House to celebrate.

They hadn’t been invited, mind you, and the ‘‘report’’ was mostly, maybe completely, conjecture. But the happy trip to accept praise from an active U.S. president has become a tradition that championship pro teams can count on.

Until now.

Coach Steve Kerr already had called Trump a ‘‘blowhard’’ who ‘‘couldn’t be more ill-suited to be president.’’

Of the presidential election, Kerr said: ‘‘This election had nothing to do with policy. It had to do with hatred and fear, and we had a candidate who stirred that up, and I thought it was a horrible precedent for our country.’’

In February, Warriors star guard and two-time NBA most valuable player Stephen Curry had become upset when Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank called Trump ‘‘a real asset’’ to the country. Even though Under Armour is one of Curry’s lucrative sponsors, Curry told a newspaper: ‘‘I agree with that description — if you remove the ‘et’ from asset.’’

Political viewpoints and sports make for strange bedfellows, but they sleep together every night. They have to.

What is a stadium tax deal but a political call for public money? Was Jackie Robinson playing for the Dodgers anything but a hurricane of politics and national racial direction? When a pro team wins mightily — or loses horribly — you think that doesn’t have a socioeconomic impact on the affected cities?

Sports are an escape from the real world, but they are also a fairy land that owe their very existence to the rules of countries around them, to the effect of peace and war, freedom and oppression, good and bad.

The 1936 Berlin Olympics were not sport so much as a showcase for the supposed virtue of racial purity and nationalism. In the book of history, would you like your name to be written with Hitler’s or with those of his enemies?

We now champion the politicization of sport by rebels Tommie Smith and John Carlos, Muhammad Ali and Jim Brown. But we didn’t at the time.

Our very own 2016 World Series champion Cubs narrowly averted controversy when they hurriedly visited President Obama in the White House on Jan. 16, 2017, four days before Trump took office. President Theo Epstein has made no secret of his disdain for the vulgar populism of Trump. Conversely, members of the Ricketts family ownership openly have supported Trump, with co-owner Todd Ricketts being considered for the position of deputy commerce secretary.

Never in my life have I seen an America as divided over issues that don’t have to do with war. ‘‘Resist’’ is the slogan of one side; ‘‘Make America Great Again’’ is the slogan of the other. White male business people are on one side; minorities and women are on the other.

Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and the Vietnam War tore this country apart, but the draft is gone and so is our concern about things such as unfair military deaths. ‘‘They asked for it, didn’t they?’’ is our response to volunteer soldiers’ plight.

But when it comes to sports and conflict, I am most reminded today of when certain teams were divided by racial issues (the NFL’s St. Louis Cardinals, the University of Iowa, the Indiana University football teams in the late 1960s) and religion (many teams when ‘‘God Squad’’ coaches such as the Dallas Cowboys’ Tom Landry led the way) and how differences eventually were worked out.

Don’t think politics can’t tear a team apart. A number of pro athletes — the Cleveland Cavaliers’ LeBron James among them — have said they won’t stay at a Trump-owned hotel. Trump’s views on immigration laws and Islam have alienated other athletes. You have to wonder whether Cuban baseball players such as Yoenis Cespedes, Jose Abreu or new kid Luis Robert even would be here if Trump had been in charge.

David Morehouse, the CEO of the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, said in a prepared statement that the Penguins ‘‘would never turn down a visit to the White House, and, if invited, we would go as a team.’’

The Penguins, of course, are almost all white. The Warriors are almost all of color, with not a single white American on the team.

Are we moving closer together? Should sports and politics engage?

They do. They must.

Follow me on Twitter @ricktelander.

Email: [email protected]


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