By Daniel Fonseca
Since the conception of organized athletic events dating back to Neolithic era wrestling, hockey in Medieval England, and contemporary sports such as ultimate Frisbee or UFC, sports have always had the characteristic of drawing both controversy and revelations in human society. Therefore, through the evolution of sports throughout the ages, a better understanding of the human condition can be made by hallmarking both the strides and division made by organized athletics. In Sports and Society, we overviewed many topics that make national headlines due to their political, racial and morally charged motivations.
One such topic was the question of whether athletes should or should not delve into social or political controversies. This argument warrants a discussion from both ends of question at hand. On one side, an argument can be made that there is a positive correlation set in precedent of athletes raising their voices in respects to social issues of their times. For example, take Muhammed Ali’s refusal to be conscripted into the U.S. Army in 1967 due to his religious beliefs which sparked uproar in white America. In addition his lack of support for the war in Vietnam was also unpopular stance at the time.
Ali was prepared to lose it all in order to uphold his personal beliefs which he in fact did after being arrested, stripped of his title, and banned from boxing for three years. Ali’s proud exhibition of his moral code resonated with black athletes to contemporary times, as seen in LeBron James who avidly voiced his displeasure of the Travon Martin shooting in 2012 by posting a hooded photo of him and his former Miami Heat teammates. These assertions of both morally and politically charged outcries by prominent black athletes have mostly been perceived in a positive light by the public.
However a dissenting opinion may concur that many instances of poor judgment made by athletes in voicing both their political and social concerns have actually raised a desire for a separation of sports with the political realm. Take for instance, Tim Hardaway’s famously voicing homophobic views on a local Miami radio show. “You know, I hate gay people, so I let it be known,” Hardaway said. “I don’t like gay people and I don’t like to be around gay people. I am homophobic. I don’t like it. It shouldn’t be in the world or in the United States.” Considering that Hardaway said it a week removed from retired NBA center John Amaechi’s openly coming out as being gay, caused serious friction and tension in NBA locker rooms.
This incredibly unpopular assertion rose to national prominence and resulted in a hostile environment for gay athletes to come out during their careers. Thus, the argument could be made athletes don’t always make the best political assertions. Finally, the counter argument would state that the “golden age” of political activism led by Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Billie Jean King, and Tommie Smith in sports is over and there is no need to have athletes voicing their opinions in current times.
Another instance in which sports have transcended the playing field and questioned the moral fabric of our society is the question of whether or not college athletes should be paid like their professional counterparts. Those who agree that college athletes should get paid state that the revenue created by major college sports such as football, and baseball mirrors that of the pros and therefore, warrant some sort of financial compensation other than full scholarships and occasional meal plans. This side also states that one out of three college athletes come from poor to working class families with little to no means of financially supporting their kids cost of living in their colleges. Thus some type of cost of living stipend along with a livable wage should be implemented in order to make the lives of the athletes that generate hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue to their schools easier.
However, opponents of paying college athletes argue that colleges are institutions of higher learning and not huge corporations that aim to make revenue off sports. But rather that the revenue made from their athletes is a result of the popularity of sports in general that beseeches both the college and professional game. In addition, college athletes receive thousands of dollars in alternate forms such as free tuition, housing, and meal plans.
Sports have more often than not caused great separation and discrimination when it comes to race. The idea that black athletes are physically superior to white athletes dates back to the discriminatory idea that blacks simply aren’t the same as whites in their genetic make-up. I find this assertion extremely charged with racist conceptions. However there is a consensus of people that try to make an argument that blacks are in fact superior. They correlate black superiority to handful of physical differences such as an elongated heal bone (which was proven to be false), higher centers of gravity, and denser muscle mass. These differences have caused sports to be questioned as NOT being a great equalizer. However, the opposite has been challenged when white athletes excel in predominantly black athletic leagues such the NBA with Dirk Nowitzki or Tiger Woods in the PGA.
Finally, in more recent times the question of whether or not sports teams should use Native American derived mascots has arisen to public discussion. Teams such as the Washington Redskins, Florida Seminoles and Cleveland Indians marginalizes the underrepresented Native American communities whom feel offended due to the usage of their likelihood to represent teams and players whom are predominately White, Black or Latino. Which furthers the century’s old oppression of indigenous communities by Americans dating back to the trail of tears and the forced white washed boarding schools.
Thus, it can be noted that sports have the ability to highlight controversies and voice opinions. However, one must always keep in mind that ultimately sports are an avenue for peace, unity and kinship.