There’s a saying that united we stand, divided we fall. If that’s true, the United States of America is in trouble.
I don’t know that the United States was ever fully united, but if sports are truly a microcosm of life, we’re less united than ever before.
The divisiveness in America was evident before the most recent presidential election. But the behavior of President Trump and the unsurprising response by many professional athletes has certainly ramped up the turmoil.
Like it or not, sports fans in this country are being asked to take sides. And it isn’t doing the professional sports leagues any favors either.
Jesse Washington, writing for theundefeated.com website, said, “As player activism becomes more widespread, the NFL is caught in a tightening vise of boycotts from both sides of the political spectrum.
“Sports is often a place where America puts aside its differences to enjoy the spirit of competition and community, but even the massively popular NFL is threatened by these extraordinary divisive times—and there’s no easy escape for a league in which the majority of players are black and the audience is mostly white.”
Todd Boyd, a Southern Cal professor who studies race, sports and pop culture, said the NFL’s conundrum is a result of two forces: “The emergence of black athletes since the death of Trayvon Martin as politically conscious activists, coupled with the right-wing shift in the country’s politics that has occurred during this same period of time. So it brings us to this point that the NFL, the most popular sport in the country, has become the site of all these political tensions playing out.”
NFL ratings declined last season with some research indicating that player protests caused or at least contributed to the slide.
But this year’s protests have reached another level. Not all athletes agree on when or how to protest, but tweets and comments by President Trump about the NFL and professional athletes has likely increased the number of player protests. Many players are now taking a knee or sitting during the national anthem, while some entire teams remain in the locker room.
The NBA is next. When Golden State announced it wasn’t sure if the team would go to the White House to celebrate its most recent championship, Trump uninvited them. Good grief.
The media generally sympathizes with the players’ protests. But remember, this is not a united country, in spite of what our nation is officially called.
Pete Hegseth spoke to several NFL fans at a New York Jets-Miami Dophins game in late September to see what they thought of the anthem protests.
One woman said it’s a “disgrace” and “unethical” for players not to show respect to the country and those who risk their lives to protect it. “It’s disgusting,” she said.
A man said he agrees with Trump “150 percent” that NFL owners should fire players who protest during the anthem. He pointed out that if he decided to protest at his job he would “probably get canned.”
Another man, however, said players have every right to engage in peaceful protest. He suggested that if Trump wants to weigh in on the NFL, then maybe he should get involved in one of the games and “take a hit and get a concussion.”
If terrorists and America’s enemies are smart, they’ll leave America alone. America is in such turmoil that we will more likely come undone from within than from outside pressures. In fact, events like 9/11 and natural disasters like hurricanes—not Republicans and Democrats—are about the only things that bring us together anymore.
We’re moving into a new era, better known as the Divided States of America.
Hillsboro resident Joe Kleinsasser is director of news and media relations at Wichita State University. You can reached him at Joe.Kleinsasser@wichita.edu.