The Cadre | UPEI

Opinion: Can Sports and Politics Be Kept Separate?

By: Allison O’Brien

This Sunday, the New England Patriots will face off against the Philadelphia Eagles in Minneapolis, Minnesota at the 52nd Superbowl. Americans across the country will be gathering in their living rooms to eat cheesy foods and their favorite beer, while Canadians will tune in for the halftime show featuring Justin Timberlake (crossing my fingers for an N’Sync reunion).

I’d like to take this moment to out myself as a New England Patriots fan. I admire the team’s work ethic and their ability to go from being down 20-10 to the Jaguars in the fourth quarter of the AFC championship to winning 24-20. I like Bill Belichick’s coaching style, and I will always deny #Deflategate.

It’s no secret, however, that ratings have been down 9.7% during the 2017 regular season. Will less Americans tune in for this weekend’s NFL championship game? If so, why?

ESPN suggests that the NFL has lost some of its viewership due to the presidential election, and during the 2017 season many fans were upset at players for protesting by taking a knee during the national anthem.

The Patriots were one such team. Twelve members kneeled during a September 2017 game against the Texans after Donald Trump called for NFL owners to cut any player who kneeled for the anthem.

Quarterback Tom Brady wasn’t one of the players who kneeled, but said afterwards, “I’ve got a lot of love for my teammates,” and “I thought [the president’s comments were] just divisive.”

Owner Robert Kraft said he was proud to be associated with players who were using their influence to impact their community. “Our players are intelligent, thoughtful, and care deeply about our community and I support their right to peacefully affect social change and raise awareness in a manner that they feel is most impactful, he said.”

But not everyone likes the Patriots. The Root, an African-American culture magazine, released an article almost a year ago, titled, “The Woke Guide to the Super Bowl: If You’re Rooting For the New England Patriots, You’re Rooting for Trump.” This article, which discussed the political meaning behind last year’s Super Bowl, is still applicable to this Sunday’s game. Not a whole lot has changed in America.

The article discusses the relationship between sports and politics, stating that sports “are a reflection of our values,” and “if you root for the New England Patriots, you are giving unmitigated, unwavering support to Donald Trump.”

The author of the article, Jason Johnson, supports this claim by saying that Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is “an unwavering supporter for President Donald Trump.” Johnson also speaks about the whiteness of the New England Patriots and suggests it is a selling point for white nationalist sports fans.

What this article claims is a fan of the Patriots is a fan of Donald Trump and white supremacy because the leaders of the Patriots openly associate with him (and there is reasonable evidence that the owner, head coach, and quarterback all support Trump).

But does cheering for the Patriots mean I agree with the political views of the team leaders?

Let me be clear: I do not cheer for the Patriots because their quarterback is what Johnson calls a “right-wing reactionary,” nor do I cheer for the Patriots because they have more white starting receivers and running backs than the league average. I strongly condemn white supremacism and blatant bigotry such as Donald Trump’s description of Haiti, El Salvador, and unspecified African nations as “shithole countries.”

So when it comes to the question of whether or not sports can be divorced from politics, the answer is not cut and dry. Athletes have the ability to influence policy and they should be able to use their platform to bring awareness to social issues.

But what Johnson proposes in his article is that we cut ties with the Patriots completely. Does that mean we should cut ties with every single Trump supporter in America? Certainly not. The day politics becomes more divisive than the teams we support or oppose is the day when I’ll lose hope for the NFL.