Athletes react to Trump’s presidency

Fair warning: this article will not stick to sports.

In the wake of Donald Trump’s presidency, the lines between sports and politics have become increasingly blurred. Having such a divisive personality in the Oval Office has led many famous athletes to use their celebrity platform to speak up about their feelings.

As some of the most recognizable faces in America, athletes have the power to shape and influence public thought like few other professions can.

With that in mind, many sports fans have become perturbed by their favorite players stepping outside the traditional sphere that sports occupies in our society. Look in the comments of any athlete’s tweet that ventures into the political realm, and you will surely find a faceless egg avatar instructing them to stick to sports.

The difficult part of this argument is that we live in an unprecedented era of access, both in terms of access to our president and our sports heroes. The intersection of these two phenomena has inevitably led to the sports heroes offering their thoughts on the president, a man who many of them vehemently disagree with.

The New England Patriots will visit the White House on April 19. Photo courtesy of Boston Globe/Twitter

This is not to say that everyone who scores touchdowns or swishes three pointers is a left-leaning liberal. In fact, several prominent athletes have used their public platform to voice their support for President Trump. Richie Incognito, a Pro Bowl guard for the Buffalo Bills, explained to Bleacher Report in October why he supported Trump.

“I think that he can help this nation get back to a world superpower,” Incognito said. “Where I think he could help is putting us first again and having that—it’s my mentality, too—having that tough attitude where you put America first and everyone’s thinking we’re the greatest nation in the world. Don’t mess with America. That toughness is where I identify with him.”

Cleveland Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer took to Twitter on Feb. 9 to express his displeasure about what he believes to be an anti-Trump bias in the media.

“Really annoyed that @Apple and @Twitter continue to flood my phone with liberal slanted anti-Trump articles,” Bauer tweeted. “Fair and equal reporting? No?”

The 26-year-old righthander went on to post several other messages, including ones stating that almost all of his teammates supported Trump and that he had been long awaiting a president that didn’t fit the current political system.

While there are a handful of athletes, both active and retired, that have sided with Trump, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has created one of the biggest stirs by constantly deflecting any questions regarding his friendship with the Commander in Chief.

“I have called him, yes, in the past,” Brady said. “But, again, that’s been someone I’ve known. I always try to keep it in context because for 16 years you know someone before maybe he was in the position that he was in. He’s been very supportive of me for a long time. It’s just a friendship. Why does everybody make such a big deal? I don’t understand it.”

While Brady has been notoriously mysterious about his voting allegiances, an overwhelming majority of the political commentary from the sports world has been staunchly against Trump.  Some of the most visible figures in sports, including LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and NBA head coaches Gregg Popovich and Steve Kerr, have used their high-profile positions to draw a hard line between them and the White House’s actions.

In late January, on the heels of the heavily attended Women’s March, Popovich, the longtime San Antonio Spurs leader, explained why he struggles to vibe with the leader of our nation.

“I’d just feel better if somebody was in that position that showed the maturity and psychological and emotional level of somebody that was his age,” Popovich said. “It’s dangerous, and it doesn’t do us any good. I hope he does a great job, but there’s a difference between respecting the office of the presidency and who occupies it.”

While Popovich’s comments seem to have been measured, and marked by eloquent thoughts, other athletes chose to get straight to the point, eliminating any room for speculation or baseless assumptions about the true meaning of the message. Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry graced the media with one of the more memorable soundbites to come from the sports world thus far in 2017.

On Jan. 30, with the effects of Trump’s shortsighted and unsuccessful travel ban executive order still being felt, the three-time All-Star dropped a profanity-filled answer when asked about his thoughts regarding the ban.

Hoping to get the Raptors’ floor general to provide a more print-friendly quote, a reporter suggested that Lowry try answering the question again without cursing. Lowry firmly declined.

Kyle Lowry strongly voiced his opinion on the travel ban. Photo courtesy of Hoop Ball/Twitter

“Y’all got to bleep [the expletives] out,” Lowry said. “That’s how I feel about it.”

Perhaps inevitably, the political rhetoric that has emerged from the sports world has understandably quelled since January. With any event, the further-removed society gets from its actual occurrence typically quiets the conversation about it.

For NBA and MLB players, the obligations of their in-progress or quickly approaching seasons understandably required most of their attention. One would guess it’s harder to fight social injustices when preparing to play four basketball games in five nights or flying to the desert to begin a month of Spring Training.

This has turned much of the politics-sports intersectionality conversation to the NFL. In the days following their miraculous comeback victory in Super Bowl LI, news came out of the New England Patriots’ headquarters that several of their players would skip the traditional White House visit that comes with a Super Bowl championship.

Tight end Martellus Bennett, one of the league’s most outspoken players, furthered that narrative by announcing shortly after the final whistle that he had never even considered taking the trip to Pennsylvania Avenue.

“I haven’t even thought about it,” Bennett said. “I am not going to go. I can elaborate later on in life. […] People know how I feel about it.”

Skipping visits to the White House is nothing new for Patriot players. In fact, Brady, the most famous Patriot of all, skipped the trip in 2015 after the team’s victory in Super Bowl XLIX. Journalists, bloggers, and fans everywhere will certainly be monitoring the quarterback’s attendance for New England’s first trip to Donald Trump’s White House, which now has an official date.

Last week, White House press secretary Sean Spicer announced that the Patriots’ trip to meet the president will take place on April 19. Like Bennett, many of his teammates will also be making other plans for that day. Defensive back Devin McCourty, linebacker Dont’a Hightower, running back LeGarrette Blount, and defensive linemen Chris Long and Alan Branch will sit out as well.

However, some of them cited other reasons besides Bennett’s disagreement with Trump’s lifestyle and political demeanor. Branch simply said that he planned on hanging out with his family instead. Hightower, who also turned down an invitation to Barack Obama’s White House after the Patriots’ Super Bowl victory in 2014, said that he’s already been there and done that.

One thing remains true for many of us during this tumultuous political climate: we have not been there or done that. Not since the 1960s, long before a majority of today’s college students were born, have sports and politics been forced to intersect in such a public manner.

Back then it was Muhammad Ali refusing to fight in the Vietnam War, and John Carlos and Tommie Smith raising black-gloved fists at the Olympics.

While it’s up to the individual to decide how they feel about NBA coaches slamming the president, grown men turning down an opportunity to meet the president, or even Colin Kaepernick kneeling for the national anthem, one overriding idea seems to be bubbling to the surface of the sports-politics cauldron.

Athletes, for as long as they feel the need to speak up about perceived wrongdoings in Washington, will not stick to sports.

Written by Matthew Roberson, Sports Editor