Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Look What You Made Me Do

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

Over the years, the musical cameos in this column have included the likes of Bob Dylan, The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen, Prince and, most recently, Blues Traveler.  This week’s title channels Taylor Swift, which is, depending on the reader’s perspective, either a new low or high for your friendly neighborhood sports writer.

To the proud “Swifties” and sworn opponents of bubble gum pop alike, I did not invite Ms. Swift to the party.  She arrived by pure chance and for the same reason all the other artists did – she happened to have a song that resonated, in this case her recent hit, “Look What You Made Me Do.”

In a way, we’re all innocent attendees of…this.  It wasn’t an anticipated topic for the writer or, I suspect, the reader.  But here we both are, required guests at a hastily created party.  Things move fast these days.  Just roll with it.  “This” will be worth it.  The experience might be good or it might be bad.  But you’ll feel something.  Promise. 

“This” concerns the latest intersection of sports and politics.  “This” is the NFL and its on-going, unresolved issue of anthem demonstrations.  “This” found its way to these pages, again, because our provocateur supreme, Donald Trump, dropped the following Twitter bomb late last week:

“The NFL National Anthem Debate is alive and well again - can’t believe it! Isn’t it in contract that players must stand at attention, hand on heart? The $40,000,000 Commissioner must now make a stand. First time kneeling, out for game. Second time kneeling, out for season/no pay!”

Oh Trump…look what you made me do.  Spotlight redirected.  Issue resuscitated.  Scab picked. 

Is this issue genuinely on this president’s radar?  Questionable.  Perhaps it was just more of the Twitter deodorant Trump routinely applies to mask the smell of his latest crises – Russia, broken families and hush money to mistresses, in this case.  Or it could be just another reason to poke the NFL, a highly successful organization that Trump was unable to…trump…during his failed USFL endeavor.

Regardless, the president chose to take a still simmering league issue, shove it onto the national stage and heat it back to a rolling boil.  Thanks, POTUS.

I mean that.  See whatever his motivation, NFL anthem demonstrations remain an important and compelling issue (and among the most popular to ever appear in this column).  Trump’s needling of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell - who has grossly mishandled the situation – also resonates.  His suggested dictatorial remedy, though, is misguided (and likely un-executable with a unionized labor force).  The situation begs for dialogue, understanding and a mutual path forward, not a subversive edict.  Attempting to command away the uncomfortable and inconvenient is foolhardy.

More broadly, Trump’s tweet is appealing because it reminds of the indelible link between sports and politics.  The two have not and cannot be separated.  That this fact causes some displeasure is curious; society has and will continue to advance itself, in part, through sports. 

We are better – meaning more aligned with the idea of America as expressed in our Declaration and implemented via our Constitution - because of the likes of Jack Johnson, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, Billie Jean King, Rubin Carter, Pat Tillman, Venus and Serena Williams, Shawn Green, Jessie Owens, Curt Flood, Brandon Marshall, Muhammad Ali and Jackie Robinson forced thought, understanding and change on various political and social issues.  We are better, too, for the cautionary tales of Barry Bonds, Pete Rose, Todd Marinovich, Lance Armstrong and the 1919 Chicago White Sox.  And we’ll be better, believe it or not, for Colin Kaepernick’s bold and courageous agitation.

Earlier this year, Fox News’ Laura Ingraham bashed LeBron James’s thoughts on the current president by saying “…keep the political commentary to yourself or, as someone once said, shut up and dribble.”  #AnonymousSources???  Anyway…following the “remain in your lane” commandment, are Ingraham and those irritated by the convergence of sports and politics now prepared to demand that POTUS “shut up and lead”?  I hope not, for if history is any guide, we benefit when politics and sports aggressively and consistently collide.  

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