Do Sports And Politics Belong Together?

Joe GSenior Writer IOctober 17, 2008

Bob Warja's article on Barack Obama's TV time potentially pushing back the start of Game Six of the World Series inspired this article.

Ah, sports and politics, two American pastimes with no lack of enthusiastic participants. Bob Warja's article on Obama and the World Series got me thinking though, do the two belong together?

A couple of weeks ago, on October 2nd, Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama paid a visit to Michigan State University. Being a large Big Ten school, MSU has a population that is enthusiastic about their sports and their politics. An astounding 20,000 people squeezed through the gates of a field meant to hold far less than that, and many thousands more were waiting outside of the fence hoping for a glimpse of the Senator.

When the time finally came to introduce him, Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) knew exactly how to get the crowd excited. She presented Obama with an MSU basketball jersey as he was greeted with raucous cheers of "Go Green, Go White!" He then began his speech by singing the praises of MSU basketball coach Tom Izzo and legendary Spartan Magic Johnson.

There is no quicker way to our hearts, trust me.

What's more, several notable current and former Spartan athletes were at the rally. Jehuu Caulcrick made an appearance, as did Heisman hopeful Javon Ringer, quarterback Brian Hoyer, safety Otis Wiley and defensive lineman Justin Kershaw.

The link between sports and politics runs much deeper than a few football players attending a rally though. It's an American tradition to have championship teams pay a visit to the White House and give a jersey to the current president.

We also have athletes heading out on the campaign trail and stumping for their favorite candidate, the best example being Curt Schilling, one of John McCain's biggest fans. This begs the question, had Schilling won a title with Bill Clinton in the White House, would he have visited D.C. with the rest of his teammates?

It's also becoming more and more common for politicians to show up at sporting events. We all remember George. W Bush throwing out the first pitch at the 2001 World Series in a very emotional moment. Sarah Palin recently experienced a slightly less emotional moment when she dropped the puck at a Rangers/Flyers game.

We could take the link even further if we wanted to. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger used his political clout to convince the Brazilian government to allow Pele to come play in the NASL for the New York Cosmos. Or Muhammad Ali's objection to the Vietnam War.

Can you picture our political landscape without former athletes? Plenty of former athletes have translated their fame into successful political campaigns. Former New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley has his number hanging in Madison Square Garden and is a basketball Hall of Famer. Jack Kemp, Bob Dole's running mate in 1996, spent 13 years as a professional quarterback. Jesse "The Body" Ventura enjoyed a term as the governor of Minnesota and has a spot in the WWE Hall of Fame. Former President Gerald Ford won two national titles in football at the University of Michigan.

One doesn't have to be a professional athlete to make it big in politics, either. Sports are an integral part of the social fabric of America and it's difficult to imagine electing a president who hasn't participated in sports at some point in their lives. Being a former athlete helps a politician cultivate the classic "Americana" persona.

Barack Obama never played sports at the highest levels, but his daily game of basketball is well-documented. He also showed some flashy moves in high school and on the campaign trail that are reminiscent of his idol, Magic Johnson. Just take a look at that deadly crossover and try to tell me that the man doesn't have game.

Now Obama has bought airtime that conflicted with the original start of Game Six of the World Series, and it's being met with mixed emotions. Some see this as a brilliant move by Obama hoping to reach out to an audience that he hasn't necessarily connected with yet. Others see it as tainting the sacred world of sports with an extended political commercial.

I say politics has a place in the sporting arena, and vice versa. As connected as the two fields are, there are still more directions to take this partnership. Plenty of high-profile athletes decide not to talk about politics and thus miss a valuable opportunity to inspire the politically apathetic to get out and vote. I previously mentioned Curt Schilling's support of John McCain so I also need to mention Baron Davis' support of Barack Obama.

But Davis is one of the highest-profile athletes to make an endorsement. Did Michael Jordan ever take a political stand? LeBron James? Joe Montana? Those are all bigger names than Davis and have missed countless opportunities to galvanize the voting public. Would you register to vote if Michael Jordan had been part of a non-partisan voter registration ad campaign? If it would help you be like Mike, you know you would.

Unfortunately His Airness has decided that political involvement could jeopardize his endorsement deals and has stayed on the political sidelines. He was the ultimate competitor on the basketball court but seems content to stay on the bench on matters like this.

Sports and politics do have a place together. We passionately idolize our sporting heroes, and passionately argue in favor of the politicians we support. Sports are important to this country as are politics. In sports, politicians have found a great platform to spread their message.

I've had my say, now you have yours. Do you think sports and politics can work together, or do you like to keep them separate?