It's certainly no news that many sports figures want to be treated like movie stars. From Joe namath's fur to Shaq's "acting", there are too many instances of jocks trying to cross the line from one sort of notoriety to the other. Perhaps the most annoying and misplaced tactic for athletes to emulate other celebs is political involvement. No, I'm not talking about ex-players that actually run for office, ala Jack Kemp or Bill Bradley. I'm talking about the ever growing number of professional athletes who equate our interest in their on the field/court endeavors with our interest in their politics.
The most recent issue of Sports Illustrated did a feature (9/8/08, "Choosing Sides") on this topic. It highlighted Clipper point guard Baron Davis's affinity for Barrack Obama and Curt Schilling's work with the John McCain campaign, while touching on some historical politics-meets-sports-moments (Bille Jean King, Muhammad Ali, etc.), and some other political views of athletes.
Let's not confuse proximity with equality because there is little that is comparable between today's politically active athlete (PAA) and the exploits of Ali and King. Fist and foremost, Ali, who is well known for having refused the draft during Viet Nam and the repercussions that he suffered as a result, was involved in politics because they directly affected him. He believed that his religious beliefs and the culture of racial prejudice that he had experienced precluded him from considering fighting in the armed services. Billie Jean King made headlines without using a racket when she admitted having had an abortion, a controversial issue in the Roe v. Wade era. Whether or not you agree with their views, you have to give credit to their fortitude. These folks put their careers on the line to stand up for something. Today's athletes are much closer to the grandstanding side of the issue than they are the "taking a stand" side.
The jocks are following in the footsteps of the movie, TV, and music industries. It's a photo finish as to whether actors, singers, or athletes are the worse sources for political commentary. Many have not finished their education (with the exception of the NFL, but then the term "finish" is sort of cloudy) and few have ever established themselves and thinkers. The more notoriety some folks get, the more they crave, and in an election year they have the perfect vehicle.
As long as these individuals have the podium, can't we get them to answer this question: "With all the information that is available, why do you think anyone cares what you think about politics?" There has some how been a connection drawn between popularity and credibility. It's a false correlation to be sure.
Schilling summed it up best on his blog, www.38pitches.com: "...don’t vote for someone a celebrity tells you to vote for, that’s lame, lazy and disrespectful of the rights you’ve been given..."
That being said, Schilling makes use of his Internet soap box extolling the virtues of the Republican nominee, not to mention talking about how George Bush has gotten a bad rap. Whether you agree or disagree with Schilling's thoughts, don't you have to ask yourself why anyone should listen to, let alone give credence, to the political views of a professional jock?
While the thoughts and feelings of professional athletes are probably heartfelt, passion is something we all want to see during games. Predictions about the November election aside, isn't it solid advice to say that paying as little attention as possible to the politics of athletes will make both politics and professional athletics better?
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