Dwyane Wade, Colin Kaepernick, Donald Trump and the unavoidable intersection of sport and politics
The respectful thing to do would have been to let Dwyane Wade mourn in peace after his cousin was shot and killed on Friday. Unfortunately for him, he is a famous American sportsman during an election year.
Enter Donald Trump, who never saw a piece of publicity he couldn’t nonsensically twist to his own use:
Ignore the fact that those words make no logical sense, and ignore that he had to delete the tweet and re-submit it after misspelling Wade’s name the first time. That’s all par for the course.
What can’t be ignored is the utter lack of taste. Wade’s cousin is dead. It happened in Chicago, Wade’s hometown, his new professional city and a city with one of the highest murder rates in the country. The last bit is what likely made Trump think the murder was ripe for political appropriation. Let’s hope Wade saw Trump’s comment, merely shrugged it off – the way many have grown to – and found his peace in mourning, independent of the public.
Lack of taste aside, this wasn’t a surprising manoeuvre for Trump. Sports and politics are at an unavoidable crossroads, especially this year given the election, and because of sport’s ever-ascending prominence in the public consciousness.
Colin Kaepernick knew this when he refused to stand for the national anthem before a mostly meaningless NFL pre-season game on Friday. The San Francisco 49ers quarterback is already under the microscope because of his general being-bad-at-football of late (he could be released any day). Forgetting – or ignoring – that any added scrutiny would only endanger his professional ambitions, he actively protested the American flag as, by the way, is his legal right.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour,” Kaepernick said. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder”.
He didn’t stop there. Given his newfound bully pulpit talking to the media on Sunday, he ripped into both Trump, by calling him “openly racist” (fair enough), and Hillary Clinton, over her never-ending email scandal (also fair). He also doubled down on his national anthem protest, saying he is going to keep doing it. Whether the 49ers keep him around long enough to do so remains to be seen, but again, all of this is within his legal rights as a US citizen. He just happens to be a public one.
The difference between Kaepernick’s and Wade’s situations is the difference between choice and circumstance. Kaepernick has actively thrown himself into the middle of the sports-politics crosshairs, but Wade didn’t. The Chicago Bulls player deserves peace and time with his family, and any bloviating, orange-skinned politician would be respectful to give him that. Kaepernick, however, made his bed and is fair game.
The men and women we root for have opinions which could be different from ours and have family members who are mortal. It would be better of us to not only keep sport and politics separate, but also keep separate the athletes and their personal lives.
But the past few days have highlighted how idealistic that is, and how sport is going to continue to stay intertwined with the uneasy American political situation.
We like to combine as many big things into as few small balls as possible. It’s easier for us to digest things that way.
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Published: August 29, 2016 04:00 AM