Things are out of hand with the National Football League. And the National Basketball Association.
Now, instead of simply playing the games, athletes want to make political gestures — grand statements of anger and angst.
Politics has now infiltrated every aspect of life, but sports had held out the longest. Awards shows like the Oscars and the Grammys were the first to fall, then TV shows (even sitcoms), then late-night comedy shows (remember when Johnny Carson did 90 seconds on politics — spanking both sides — then moved on?)
Now, politics is everywhere, and there’s no escaping it — even on Sunday afternoon.
Athletes used to steer clear of politics, choosing to let their skills on the field of play speak for them. Asked about the news of the day, they’d evade: “Let’s talk about the game.” And that’s how it should be — no one cares what Tom Brady or LeBron James thinks about the president’s decision on anything.
On Monday, Mr. Trump — feeling disrespected that the Super Bowl champions, in a purely political gesture, planned to send fewer that 10 people to the White House for a celebratory event — uninvited the team.
“The Philadelphia Eagles are unable to come to the White House with their full team to be celebrated tomorrow,” Mr. Trump said in a statement. “They disagree with their President because he insists that they proudly stand for the National Anthem, hand on heart, in honor of the great men and women of our military and the people of our country. The Eagles wanted to send a smaller delegation, but the 1,000 fans planning to attend the event deserve better. These fans are still invited to the White House to be part of a different type of ceremony — one that will honor our great country, pay tribute to the heroes who fight to protect it, and loudly and proudly play the National Anthem.”
Then everyone weighed in. And we mean everyone.
By Tuesday afternoon, Mr. James and Stephen Curry, whose teams are squaring off now in the NBA Finals, said neither the Cavaliers nor the Warriors would be interested in visiting the White House anyway.
Mr. James, asked about Mr. Trump’s cancellation, said, “I actually just found out about it. It’s typical of him. I am not surprised. I mean, I know no matter who wins this series, no one wants the invite anyways. It won’t be Golden State or Cleveland going.”
Last year, Mr. Trump took to Twitter to uninvite Mr. Curry and the Golden State Warriors from visiting the White House amid reports the NBA champs were having a team meeting to decide whether to go. The mess spiraled. The whole team decided not to come. NBA stars took to Twitter to fire back. It was ugly.
Then during last year’s NFL season, Mr. Trump called out the players who disrespect America by kneeling during the national anthem. That brought more reaction from athletes and owners. Last month, the NFL set a new policy banning players on the field from kneeling during the anthem.
But let’s keep this all in perspective. Nearly 50 years ago, President Richard Nixon invited sports teams to the White House. Did they all — every player — agree with Nixon? Support the Vietnam War? Did they do the same for Ronald Reagan? George Bush? Barack Obama?
So here’s the big point: There’s no place for politics in sports. None. Sports is, for the viewer — you and me — an escape from the real world, where we can watch finely tuned athletes play a game at the very highest level. No viewer cares a whit whether Bryce Harper agrees with the president on trade tariffs — nor should they. It’s a game — just play it (and make millions while you do it).
Like any American, players are entitled to their opinions, political and otherwise.
Just take it off the field and the court.
• Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @josephcurl.
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