Monday 18 December 2017 / 08:39 AM

NBA , NFL

‘STICK TO SPORTS’ MENTALITY MEETS ITS MATCH

We all know the story of Colin Kaepernick. The embattled former star for the San Francisco 49ers took the NFL by storm by kneeling during the national anthem during games to protest police brutality and the treatment of black citizens in the United States. It divided the nation like you would imagine, sending some to burn his jerseys and others to buy it in bulk.

Since, we’ve seen Kaepernick boycotted by the NFL’s teams, earning him a seat outside of the NFL based on nothing more than political ideology, a slap in the face to a solid NFL starter amid a sea of teams with below-average talent behind center.

Since his exclusion from the league, we’ve seen the summer heat up with players calling for him to get a roster spot, with seemingly everyone aside from the owners and GMs agreeing that he deserves a spot.

And yet still he sits, unemployed.

This has been the crux of activism in the United States for athletes. Each time we’ve seen an athlete take a stand on any sort of political ideal, be it the NBA’s activism for the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Alton Sterling and Philando Castille to the original anthem protests from Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, athletes are constantly hit with the same condescending reaction for their opinion:

“Stick to sports.”

That label has been used to dismiss the opinion of athletes for a long time here in the United States, with a rallying cry quick to silence the very sort of activism the First Amendment protects.

But in the new age of the reality show politics, with a reality show President, that mantra has been tested. And finally this weekend, it hit its boiling point.

President Donald Trump decided to score some quick applause from a rally in Alabama over the weekend by swining at some low-hanging fruit: the easy punching bag Kaepernick. Below are Trump’s comments, in his own words.

Yes, you heard that correctly. That’s the United States President telling NFL owners to fire the “son of a bitches” that protest. And like that, the powder keg was finally lit.

But we haven’t even reached the end of this wild ride. Later that same day, Trump responded to a growing controversy of the Golden State Warriors all unanimously agreeing not to accept the White House’s invitation to meet the President. And like only a grade schooler can, Trump was quick to break up with Curry and the Warriors before they broke up with him:

Finally, as if by magic, the political world that had long used the world of sports as caricatures and punching bags had set itself in the crosshairs of a world of athletes that finally grew tired of being the symbols and not the person.

Donald Trump himself is a key example of everything he says the athletes of the two most visible leagues in the world ought not to be: a TV character that grew a large mouth that ventured into politics.

The difference, however, is his speech is somehow okay. But for athletes, their rights as citizens of a democracy are somehow not recognized. Instead, in the case of the NFL, when players wave a flag and agree with the President, it’s great for our country. But if they voice an opinion that provokes some division, it’s time to “stick to sports.”

It’s odd, too, because never in my life has someone told me when talking of politics to “stick to writing”, nor would anyone tell someone “stick to plumbing” or “stick to selling.”

No, instead it seems that athletes are in a world of their own, detached from engaging in the discussion that every other citizen can have. And that can have many reasons, but one seems like a more likely one than the rest: that this group includes a predominantly minority community and one that doesn’t always reflect the ‘wholesome, American’ image that the President and the NFL would like to put off.

Which brings it back to Kaepernick. On the day of Trump’s tweet, within just one hour, the sports world fired back at the Leader of the Free World. Players from across the NFL and NBA, the two most emulated and watched sports leagues in the United States, banned together to push back a narrative that has moved them to vanilla for way too long.

Of course, the NBA has long embraced this policy of allowing their players autonomy on causes. In the era of Adam Silver, players have spoken out against many different issues, from the top of the league in LeBron James all the way down to the end of the bench. And NBA Twitter made their feelings known before anyone else on the frustration with Trump and his comments, starting with the man himself:

And with that, the flood gates opened. The NBA responded from virtually every angle, emphasizing their dismay with the President and their readiness to fight back against the label of “sticking to sports.” But we expected that from this league, right?

Then there’s the NFL. This league that has seen it’s top team support President Trump much to the chagrin of most of its players, and a league that has doubled down on Middle-America and down-home values, even with most of their players coming from poorer and worse conditions.

But the league that left Kaepernick out to dry finally got their kickback, with protests erupting across the NFL on Sunday. The Steelers and Seahawks refused to participate in the anthem at all, while teams all over knelt or locked arms during the anthem to show protest.

It was a day of solidarity for a league that so much avoids any and all kind. And then the real change was seen: owners around the NFL began to support their players. Even Robert Kraft, the Trump donor himself, was pushed into condemning his words.

Finally, the league began to speak like its participants instead of their buyers. Nobody really knows the motivation of President Trump in the inflammatory words he pointed at protesters around both leagues. Applause seems likely, but this has been seen before as a way to discourage any athlete from crossing into the public domain.

But instead, Trump seemingly awakened a dormant giant.

This weekend, but world of sports and activism blended into one, whether either league or anyone else is ready for it.

But that’s just democracy: citizens showing their beliefs and ideals on any and every stage.

This is the weekend that “stick to sports” mantra finally got bucked.

(Trump has yet to respond to any of the athletes’ criticism. I guess he’s sticking to politics.)

Also, here’s some Ayesha Curry shade and something to donate to in all of this.

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About the author

Austin Albertson

Austin is CBS' senior NFL and NBA analyst, bringing you commentary on everything between the lines and inside the hashes, from the film room to the scoreboard.

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