It happened the instant M.D. Jennings’ cleats struck turf.
Before Packer Nation could howl, or Golden Tate shrug, or Aaron Rodgers blinker, or Commissioner Goodell shudder.
It happened the moment striped arms rose in error—Monday Night Football had succumbed to politics.
The beast stirred. The presidential candidates began prepping their spin.
And who’s surprised?
Big money and old names, crises of leadership, influence pedaling and constituents are as shackled to sports as to politics.
Pitchers and presidents have lied to congress. Health care is a shared flashpoint. Birther conspiracies and crotch-texting have their place.
But while democracy may degenerate into a carnival—in an election year at least—sport clings to the mantle of merit.
On the field, competence is supposed to be manifest. Talent is supposed to be self-evident. Rules are supposed to be clean.
George Bush II inherited a legacy. Clay Matthews III proved his.
Jim Thorpe broke the racial barrier, and he did it without Goldman Sachs.
Should Sport Lockouts be a Presidential Debate Issue?
So when posturing and greed in the NFL led to three weeks of incompetence—fouling fair play with millions to witness—it was a betrayal of ideals.
It was also a reminder that smoke filled rooms can look like skyboxes.
Watergate meet Tate-Gate.
But politics has a knack for intruding.
At the London Olympics, Michelle Obama was omnipresent, giving love to the Dream Team. Mitt Romney wasn’t short on support with the family’s mare, Rafalca, showboating in dressage and Kristi Yamaguchi dropping props on commercial breaks.
(The Yamaguchi ads skirted the U.S. Olympic Committee’s ban on politicized footage by showing stills of the 2002 games.)
Of course athletes have the right to endorse and vocalize. They don’t check the Constitution in the locker room. But fans should cling to the separation of Sport and State like their brewskies depend on it.
Imagine: After throwing the ceremonial first pitch of the World Series, the President bogarts the cameras to push his tax plan.
Jockey silks in red or blue.
Linebackers blocking the highway, the Fab Five hurling Molotovs at the G10, a Rose Bowl parade of donkeys and elephants.
It’s like something out the Twilight Zone. Or Machiavelli’s handbook.
So the unspoken code should be heeded. Sport should spurn the urge to take sides and push agendas. Self-respect just may depend on it.