100 yard American Flag displayed at the Sun Bowl

Op-Ed: When Sports, Politics, Race and Protest Collide

The last few days have been some of the most interesting, polarizing, and controversial the country, let alone the sports world has seen in a long time.

President Donald Trump stole the limelight when he was involved in a Twitter war vs. seemingly everyone, even some of his former supporters.

Friday, at their media day, members of the Golden State Warriors made mention of their decision to not visit the White House in what has become a tradition of champions in the United States for decades.

When asked, Steph Curry reiterated his stance on not wanting to visit the White House if invited because of his disagreements with the President over a multitude of issues, most stemming from Trump’s lack of distancing himself from known white supremacist groups that many believe helped his rise to the highest position in the free world.

The fire only grew, as various members of the NBA community were as equally appalled by the incendiary tweets that Trump spewed following Curry’s opinion on the matter. The feelings of anger and angst turned into an inferno as the President even called the NFL players “Sons of Bitches” if they protested along with Colin Keapernick, in an effort to bring an end to police brutality and shine a light on inequality faced throughout the country by people of color.

Sunday NFL Players voiced their opinions by standing arm in arm, kneeling, embracing one another or standing in the tunnel out of view of everyone while the National Anthem played. Alejandro Villanueva, Army Veteran and West Point Graduate, was the lone Pittsburgh Steeler to be seen during the National Anthem.

This show of unity throughout the NFL led former Trump Supporter Rex Ryan to explain why he is no longer and has not been for a while, a Trump supporter.

The NFL player protests, the Warriors decision to skip the White House and the current state of Colin Keapernick’s NFL career all made me to ask some of my most respected friends, former co-workers and members of the media their opinions on the matter.

 “It’s ironic that so many players are kneeling, and the man who started it all is still being blackballed.” One source close to me said. 

The sad truth is that Colin Keapernick is still without a job while a player like Brock Osweiler, who is being paid $15 Million to not play for the Cleveland Browns, but is a backup in Denver, can somehow have a career, is befuddling to some… myself included. Keapernick’s numbers on the football field are not staggering by any means, but they are more than respectable, and better than 10-15 of the current starters in the NFL today.

“As a bi-racial American citizen, I feel the need to join this protest to fight for my rights. If our president sees our athletes as ‘sons of bitches’, what more does this country have to offer?”“(We) both pledged to give our life for that flag, have had fallen brothers caskets with that flag draped on it. Those same brothers gave their lives and would do it again so those disgraceful punks can disrespect it? The flag is NOT the police force.”

The divide has grown wider as the current state of our nation, and the sports world, are put to the test with the President’s comments and those who are fighting for equality, while seemingly offending others. As was put to me in a private conversation. I myself am a veteran of the US Air Force. I love and respect everything that the Flag stands for and I, at time tear up when I hear the anthem played, remembering how grateful I am to be in this country.

I asked a friend, a successful African American man, who is also a veteran.

“…It is both courageous and inspiring. The fact that even in 2017 equality does not exist. What players want is simply, equality. To be able to live their life without being threatened because of the color of their skin… you use the only platform you have, SPORTS!”

Sports have been an outlet for many. We applauded Muhammad Ali when he protested the Vietnam War. We begged for Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James to stand up and voice their opinions. Now we have someone standing up for the little guy, shining a light on the subject, and he is shunned. Plenty of people have questions when it comes to the protests.

“I would support the protests, but I don’t know what it is about. Is it about racial inequality? Is it about the President calling the NFL players “SOB’s”? Todays protests weren’t about racial inequality, that’s what needs to be remembered, they were about the words President Trump said about the NFL protesters being fired, regardless of skin color.”

It is in fact the reality. The NFL player protests were not fully about racial inequality and that is where the confusion is. Yes the protests initially started off that way and the underlying tone is there, but that original message was lost Sunday.

“They felt the need to rise up against a racist President that called white supremacists ‘fine people’ but called them ‘sons of bitches… it blew up today because of what he said”

The highest position in the world, the one with the most power, respect and eyes on it has long been that of President of the United States. The President has long been respected, but this time it seems like the man in office is more polarizing than John Cena or Tony Romo. The words of hate or truth, however you see it, have driven a divide in the country, but if you support the president are you a white supremacist? Is the President, in fact, a white supremacist?

“Trump’s daughter married an Orthodox Jew and converted to Orthodox herself. As much as he’s enabled White Supremacists and hasn’t really distanced himself, a true White Supremacist would NEVER allow their daughter to marry someone like that.”

There is some truth in that, but the President has in fact not distanced himself from the shadow of White Supremacy. We can say he is not a Nazi, but is he a racist? Does he truly speak for those who are too scared to speak for themselves when it comes to the issue of race? I think of this as a Smoke and Mirrors tactic of his to distract from the issue that is North Korea.

Is it the fact that he had a long-standing fight with the NFL?

“… He’s had it out for the NFL since the USFL days.”

Ah, the USFL, the ill-fated business venture of one Donald Trump that failed, a common theme of his. Something that made people respect him was his ability to bounce back, build himself back up after a failure, but now the steaks are larger than what they were for Trump back then, it’s the fate of an entire country.

I am like most people, I respect the NFL Players for their protest, but I for one don’t know where the end goal is. How can we stop it? Are we destined to protest forever? What is the goal in mind, every protest needs to have a goal or it falls flat. When I asked 20 different people the answers were eerily similar.

“I don’t think there will ever be a solution.” Said an up and coming Sports Journalist

“That’s the million dollar question.” Was the sentiment of a veteran.

“This will never end, as violence and injustice will always be a part of our society and nation. All we can do is fight for our beliefs and hope that our voices a heard loud and clear.” This was the answer from a well-known and respected sports radio host.

The answer is much more complex than an already volatile situation. What happens next? Where does this saga go from now? But most importantly where does this leave a nation divided?




Author – Mike Tipton (shootoutpodcast@google.com ) is a graduate of Socorro High School and current UTEP student. He spent 3 years in the US Air Force and love to travel. Mike currently works at ESPN as a production assistant for ESPN Radio. He hopes to one day have his own local radio show in El Paso.