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Sports Authority

Berry: Athletes should be allowed to protest

| Monday, September 25, 2017

The days of kicking back with the boys and watching a game free from political messages are long gone.

During televised football and basketball games viewers can expect to see active forms of political protest, from kneeling during the national anthem, to warm up shirts with political messages such as “I can’t breathe.” The centuries-old imaginary boundary that has separated sports and politics has rapidly faded, and is almost nonexistent depending on which sport you’re watching. Despite the initial taboo not to infiltrate the “sports sanctuary” with political agendas, in modern day sports it has become nearly impossible for sports to exists without including politics.

The great debate of whether or not athletes should be allowed to make political demonstrations during nationally televised games was sparked when former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick spent the 2016 season kneeling during the national anthem to protest an increase in political injustice against African Americans and other minorities across the country. While some NFL players followed Kaepernick’s lead by protesting during the anthem, many players and owners harshly criticized Kaepernick for what they considered to be a disrespectful act against to the United States. Similar protests have been done throughout the WNBA and NBA, with the same mixed reactions for fans and media alike.

Recently, the politically charged protests have made their first reaches into America’s favorite pastime: baseball. This past weekend, Oakland Athletics catcher Bruce Maxwell became the first MLB player to take a knee during the national anthem. Maxwell followed his protest by publicly voicing his frustrations about racial injustice and divisive comments from President Trump. Maxwell kneeled with the intention of bringing awareness to the plight of minorities in the U.S., without disrespecting the flag or the country. Last month, during a Boston Red Sox games against the A’s, fans were removed from Fenway Park for displaying a large sign which read: “Racism is as American as baseball.” The sign captured the prevailing thought and fears that Kaepernick and many other supporters had been alluding to for the last few months.

The lingering question of whether or not athletes should be allowed to protest has caused great controversy due to how the athletes are practicing their First Amendment rights. Given the current political climate of the country and the numerous issues that both directly and indirectly affect athletes, they should be allowed to participate in political protests without the fear of being disciplined.

The main reason for the drastic increase in political demonstrations can be correlated with a change in the political environment. Over the last year, American politics have drastically shifted, and have garnered a series of firsts including the election of the first president in the modern era without vast and established political experience. Although the average sports fanatic may not be pleased to watch the numerous political demonstrations, the demonstrations are necessary to bring public awareness to these issues. Many sports fans would disagree and say that the protests are a distraction from the sport and have contributed to a decline in viewership, which is well within their rights to voice their opinions. But the racial injustices in America that have been present for decades, and they deserve to be in the national spotlight in order to help work toward resolutions.

The protests have been met with staunch criticism from sports writers and fans encouraging athletes to just stick to sports, but wouldn’t it also be fair to tell politicians to stick to politics? After all, it should be taken into considering that Trump has made it a priority to publicly criticize Colin Kaepernick, Stephen Curry and all NFL owners. If sports and politics are going to coexist it should be acceptable to for both sides to voiced their opinions freely.

For those who attribute the demonstrations as actions disrespectful and detrimental to the country, it is also important take into consideration the issue and cause that the athletes are protesting not just how they chose to do so.

Considering the shift in the current political climate of United States sports fan should be prepared to see athletes taking many more political stands to combat the many underlying issues within the American justice system. Only time will tell if sports can once again survive without political involvement.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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