The irony of politicians now wanting athletes to be 'heard'

Shalise Manza Young
·Yahoo Sports Columnist
·5 min read

So which one is it?

Are we supposed to listen to athletes when they speak up on a topic? Or are we supposed to dismiss them and tell them to “stick to sports” when they contribute to a dialogue?

The last couple of days have made it clear: if there’s money on the line, it’s the former. If it’s something pesky, like, oh, police brutality and equality for Black Americans, it’s the latter.

Some of us have long since been able to see things as they are, but if you haven’t yet, hopefully you do now.

On Monday, there was a coordinated effort on Twitter and social media to spread the hashtag #WeWantToPlay, a pushback by college football athletes against the belief of school presidents and scientists that this fall’s season shouldn’t be played due to COVID-19.

For the record: it is heartbreaking for student-athletes, especially seniors, that they’re losing the season. No one is questioning the work and dedication it takes to be a Division I athlete and how much they want to play, least of all the person who spent two years as one (i.e., this writer).

Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence was one of the most prominent names pushing the idea of playing, and quickly got support on Twitter from Republican politicians including President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Rep. Jim Jordan. They were suddenly telling the rest of us that those players should be heard.

A lot of people have shown their true colors on social media, but hell if there wasn’t a whole Pantone guide full of colors on display on Twitter.

We’re supposed to listen to college students about playing through a pandemic, unnecessarily risking not just their own lives and long-term health, but the health of anyone they’ll come in contact with? The assistant coaches who are over 60 and firmly in the danger zone? The longtime university employees who have dutifully cleaned athletes’ locker rooms and kept their equipment intact? Their instructors and fellow students? Because you can’t say they’re student-athletes without the “student” aspect.

On top of the fact that had any of those politicians supporting #WeWantToPlay and saying we “need” college football (we don’t) actually done something over the last 6-8 months to stop the spread of the coronavirus, like mandating masks across the country and universal stay-at-home measures that likely would have saved the college football season, the hypocrisy is off the charts.

In 2017, President Trump called Colin Kaepernick and the few other NFL players kneeling during the anthem at the time to protest extrajudicial killing of Black people at the hands of police “son of a bitch.” Last week he called NBA players who are kneeling “disgraceful.”

On Tuesday morning, he said he’d rather the NFL not have a season at all if players are going to continue their peaceful protests, meant to shed light on the continued, systemically unequal and often violent treatment of Black Americans — including the players themselves, regardless of their financial status.

Because as we all know, the real offense isn’t the Black people being treated like second-class citizens for the color of their skin, it’s the fact that they are bringing attention to it and demanding better. Interestingly, Lawrence attended and spoke at a Black Lives Matter demonstration in June. His tweets promoting the march did not get a Trump retweet.

But players should be heard, right?

Also in 2017, Pence, who once was booed at a showing of “Hamilton,” staged his own drama, going to an Indianapolis Colts-San Francisco 49ers game only to leave when 49ers players kneeled. It was a planned event, at just a $250,000 cost to taxpayers.

Vice President Mike Pence applauds before an NFL football game
Vice President Mike Pence made a now infamous trip to an Indianapolis Colts game last year. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

And Loeffler, well, we’ve said a lot about her in recent weeks. After coming out against the WNBA painting “Black Lives Matter” on the courts in the wubble and repeatedly railing about players “mixing politics and sports” and making them into culture war pawns in her own political race, Loeffler had the gall to post that if college football players want to play, “shouldn’t they be heard too?”

If players should be heard Senator, why are you so upset that the women of the WNBA are using their voices to amplify injustice?

So which one is it? Why should players be listened to when they’re saying they are willing to put their (and countless others’) health on the line, but not when they’re asking for racial justice?

Maybe it’s because there’s not money to be gained by Black players asking for equality, maybe that’s the difference, not like the millions Power 5 colleges rake in annually from football — none of which is passed on to the players, just as a reminder.

Maybe it’s because they believe that college football will bring people together, but something as terrible (tongue firmly in cheek, to be clear) as equal rights is divisive. Because as we all know, nothing is worse than all Americans operating on a level playing field.

Maybe this marks a turning point. Maybe the next time an NBA or WNBA player brings up Louisville EMT Breonna Taylor, slain in her own home as she slept by police executing a no-knock warrant in pursuit of a suspect they already had in custody, Trump and Pence and Loeffler will tweet their support and say Taylor deserves justice.

I mean, if we’re all on the “listen to athletes” bandwagon now.

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