Much to my chagrin, sports and politics remain more intertwined than ever. This is not the first time that I’ve expressed that to you nor will it be the last. No matter how hard we try to ruin it, I consider sport, specifically competition, to be the last bastion of purity in our society. Of course, I’m speaking of the actual contests on the fields and courts, not the mechanisms that finance and govern organized athletics. Those haven’t been pure in my lifetime. Meanwhile, politics has always been the most impure facet of any society.
Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey recently tweeted, “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong.” That immediately sent the Chinese government and its state- controlled media into a frenzy. That was enough to put NBA Commissioner Adam Silver into a panic. After all, the NBA long ago sold its’ soul to the devil by striking a $1.5 billion deal with the Chinese government to televise and play games in China. They tell me that basketball is immensely popular there, but only if the government says so.
Our national media immediately screeched that Morey’s tweet was an “international incident.” It astonishes me that Morey can express support for an oppressed population, and it forces the entire NBA hierarchy, including star players, to drop to their knees and beg the forgiveness of a heavy-handed government. The Chinese government immediately pulled some games off TV, so they leveraged Silver right into their proverbial painted corner.
Heck, NBA team owners must now be called governors, not owners. Silver knows that a huge segment of the NBA fan base and the players naively adore government power, so the jailing of dissidents in China must be their right. Principle aside, $1.5 billion can’t be jeopardized. While Morey was only censured in our country, he would be behind bars in China. What must he have been thinking when he made that fateful tweet, that he was in the USA?
California politicians have passed the Fair Pay to Play Act which allows, beginning in 2023, student-athletes in California colleges to profit from their own likeness and image. In simple terms, they can sell their autographs, advertise for businesses, etc. no matter if the NCAA forbids it. While I agree that the concept behind the law is fair, college kids should be allowed to sell what is theirs, the unintended consequences to this law are immense.
The NCAA often brings government intervention into college athletics upon itself. In an attempt to protect an archaic rule of amateurism, the organization is terribly slow afoot when it comes to accepting changing economic mores. When coaches are now making $9 million a year and not-for-profit universities are capitalizing on athletics, depriving student-athletes of the ability to market themselves reeks of exploitation. California gave the NCAA a 3-year grace period to react. Another sports and politics clash will certainly play out in federal court.
And for those of you who believe in karma, last Wednesday was your affirmation. Atlanta Braves ownership disavowed the Tomahawk Chop mere hours before an elimination playoff game. The Braves promptly gave up 10 runs in the first inning. They should change the name of the team to the “Howards.” It rhymes with what the Braves’ owners are.
Will they now replace the tomahawk on the uniform? After 30 years of chopping it took a Cardinals’ pitcher of Cherokee heritage to create the knee-jerk reaction. The Braves acquiesced politically and surreally, for good measure, on the scoreboard. What a message that must have sent to their own fans, some of whom certainly must also have native American bloodlines. Ironically, Cherokee-owned Harrah’s Casino in North Carolina has been a major Braves sponsor for years. Just see their big sign in SunTrust Park. Go figure.
This may change the course of the Braves franchise. When the team struggles, I don’t see fans rushing to the ballpark in the future to celebrate the demise of the Tomahawk Chop, at the behest of an opposing player nonetheless, on one of the biggest days in Atlanta sports history. Only out-of-touch corporate ownership could fathom such horrific patronization.
Nothing is sacred anymore. Athletic events are no longer just competitive entertainment. They’re a forum for anybody with a cause.
Gene Walker is a retired educator who lives in Thomson. His column, “Sports Talk,” appears in the weekly editions of The McDuffie Progress. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.