UNITED IN SPORT: How Sports Can Bring Together a Polarized Nation

To quote Rich Eisen, a well-known sports journalist, “Sports is the ultimate escape…”

One way that this could be interpreted is that sports are a way for people to take a break from the real world and its problems and just enjoy the games by themselves. Many people might even believe that sports are merely for entertainment purposes. The sports media has certainly shied away from this kind of thinking. Quite recently, companies have begun to force their agendas without considering how viewers crave an escape from politics in their sports news. This not only affects the fans of sport, but also has contributed to monetary losses for major media outlets. Sports have the power to unite the citizens of the United States when they remain focused on keeping sports and politics separate. Because the sports world has begun to push against that separation, the sports media has contributed to the collective division, not unification, of the United States.

Sports have been a major component, in terms of unity, in the United States for years. Unity has been demonstrated during the Olympics and also from the early to mid-twentieth century, when large amounts of people started to go and enjoy watching a baseball game, or other sport, after a collective long days’ work. During the Olympics, there was only one team for the whole United States to cheer for, so it was a chance for almost everyone to come together and cheer for the same side. All of the U.S.A. chants and flags hung around the country, showed a collective, nation-wide pride.

A good example displaying national unity was the “Miracle on Ice” tournament in the 1980 winter Olympics, in which the United States had to play the four-time defending gold medal champions: The Soviets. This period in history was referred to as the Cold War, in which the United States and Russia were both battling to see who could make the most nuclear warheads. It was considered to be a time of fear for the U.S. and regardless of what political beliefs each citizen had, they could all relate to the collective distaste of the U.S.S.R. The game was extremely close throughout the three periods, but ultimately-resulted in the United States beating the Russians 4-3 (U.S. Hockey Team Beats the Soviets in the ‘Miracle on Ice’). This story was so incredible that even Disney created a movie based off the story.

No matter the sport, many American citizens would work hard at their jobs of all classes so that at the end of the day, they could go to a baseball game or listen to their team on the radio. This escape from the real world brought everyone together on the same level, giving everyone the same role as a fan. People from the bottom of the lower class to the top of the upper class would unite as fans and watch these games together. Not only that, but because of Jackie Robinson, Major League Baseball began to let more black players into the league. Jackie stressed the fact that he did not want people to look at his actions as political, rather as a movement toward and focus on complete equality in sports, something very different from politics in sports. He was looking for collective unity. In reference to unity in sports, the former South-African president Nelson Mandela once stated, “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where there was only despair” (World Economic Forum). Mandela recognized that sport has the opportunity to create and foster unity, unlike the world of politics. Sadly, just because some individuals have had this mindset of unity through sport, does not mean that the major sports networks have held on to the same idea.

Recently and quite sadly, many popular sports-media stations have begun to try and integrate politics into the daily sports-reporting world. Donald Trump’s name regularly appears in the main sports headlines and people kneeling for the National Anthem leads the highlight reel. This is highly problematic for not only sports fans, but also sports organizations as well. As stated by journalist Michael Mccarthy in 2016 during the Colin Kaepernick protests, “Nearly one-third (32 percent) of adults say they’re less likely to watch NFL game telecasts because of the Kaepernick-led player protests against racial injustice, according to Rasmussen’s telephone/online survey of 1,000 American adults conducted Oct. 2-3.” If this means that millions of people watch each NFL game, the number of unhappy customers has expanded significantly. According to Forbes Magazine, ESPN decided to take the political route and in one month dropped from 62 percent of its social media consumer sentiment to 41, a total drop of 21 percent (Swan)! The reality is this: Most sports fans do not turn on their favorite sports channel to stay up to date with politics — that is what political news channels are for. Fans tune in or click on to sports media sources to escape political agendas and biases. That is how it was in past decades but recently, there is an obvious change in content covered.

Since the Kaepernick protests, many major media outlets decided to use politics in their content, rather than keeping the focus on the games themselves. ESPN is the perfect illustration of putting their own agendas ahead of the entertainment satisfaction of its viewers. According to the Wall Street Journal, ESPN began shifting toward the political realm when one of their anchors on their channel, Jemele Hill, tweeted that President Donald Trump was a “White Supremacist (Ramachandran).” This action put ESPN in difficult circumstances. Instead of firing her, John Skipper, who happened to be the president of the company at the time, kept her pardoned from any disciplinary action and kept her with the company. This could be considered ESPN’s first major political statement. This set off a chain-reaction and caused a public uproar prompting the #BoycottESPNmovement. The author said, “There is broad agreement within ESPN that covering sports news means sometimes tackling hot topics such as politics and race,” said Ramachandran. This, combined with the political commentary made from ESPN executives during the 2016 elections, concerned some of the more conservative staff of the company. A former conservative host on Sports Center, Jay Crawford (who was fired about three years ago), stated, “Realizing there’s never been a time in my lifetime where our country has been more divided, I saw no value in adding to that decision.” After reading this quote, one might notice that he was referring to the fact that mixing politics and sports is not an intelligent philosophy, regardless of which side of the political spectrum each channel leans. When a sports media company continues to put a strong focus on politics, it contributes to the collective division of the United States.

A reason why ESPN combines sports and politics could privately be a marketing strategy. Surely, they have noticed how the NFL’s attempt to mix the political world into NFL games has hurt the league and do not want to have the same result. If people are not exposed to more-diverse, non-biased sports information, then their argument suddenly becomes more accepted.

The public dissatisfaction with ESPN and the NFL’s apparent political biases have begun to shift the focus of the media through new startups. This includes a couple of entrepreneurs that have tried to jump onto this idea. Barstool Sports is an example of a sports-media website that tried to not focus on politics. According to an interview done by Business Insider, Erika Nardini the CEO of Barstool had an explanation about their company’s philosophy: “This is a company that is not PC [politically correct],” she stated (Lebowitz and Shontell). Their focus is interesting. It is not about not incorporating politics; it was about not caring too much about what they, as reporters and writers say. Even though this approach may be attractive to a market that dislikes biases in their sports news, it still has become political itself. It becomes about sides. One side focuses on being “politically correct” and the other, politically incorrect, which is problematic because the approach results in division and hurts the overall credibility of the source. In fact, ESPN decided to try and partner with Barstool and pick the company up for a show on television. That ended after just one episode because an ESPN anchor took a picture of old Barstool articles written about her that were sexist, which were grounds for terminating the partnership. Barstool has damaged the public perception of non-political sports news, but it has not stopped more entrepreneurs from trying.

Our company has decided to take a different approach. On our “About” section on our sports blog website, it mentions that our dream is that one day people will be able to follow their favorite teams in sports while escaping the realm of controversial agendas. We just started up about a month ago and it has already caught the attention of professional athletes. The fact that our company has only been around for a relatively short amount of time could mean that many of you fans are tired of political biases creeping into your sports news. We specialize in blog post editorials by sports fans that are becoming tired of reading politics in their sports news.

Another reason that we have found early success could be our effective use of social media interaction to spread their philosophy world-wide. On the front page of the 6048 Sports website we not only include their YouTube channel series: The Christian and DeMonte Show, but also display our Instagram feed as well. Whenever someone comments something vulgar or politically controversial, we immediately delete it. We have a determination to keep an inclusionary environment that is safe for every sports fan. Here is where we figured out what to do right from where Barstool Sports got it wrong. Our focus on sports news is strictly-based on helping the movement towards the separation of sports and politics, not our writer’s own personal agendas. The politician Robert Kennedy once said, “The world of sports knows no religious, racial or political differences. Athletes, from whatever land they come, speak the same language. The lessons of competition are lessons for life.” He saw that sports should not mix with politics. Also, one might note that he separates the terms “religious,” “racial,” and “political.” Almost every successful athlete regardless of religion, race, and political beliefs can pinpoint their success to their constant hard work. This could hint to the fact that he believed that political agendas did not entail religion and race, only the difference in work ethics and he was even a politician.

Some people would disagree with the argument that unity in sports is when there is no presence of politics in sports news. They believe that this idea is impossible or too-optimistic. They are right in the fact that this idea is going to be hard to get, but it is not impossible. Many of the greatest human achievements were once deemed “impossible.” Merriam Webster’s definition for Vision is, “the act or power of imagination.” This means that our reality of what is impossible depends on what we can imagine. All it takes are a few people to imagine a world without politics and sports co-existing before all of this can happen. If the few people imagine this, it will not only influence sports, but the dividedness of the United States as well. In reference to the power of sports in U.S. society, Michael Serazio stated the following in the description of his book, The Power of Sports: Media and Spectacle in American Culture, “…nothing brings Americans together quite like sports.” Sports are unique because they have the power to unite people with different backgrounds and beliefs, unlike politics which have historically divided people.

Companies should be putting a strong-focus on providing non-biased sports news because the amount of people who watch sports is eye-opening. “63 percent of Americans, according to a February CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, describe themselves as sports fans, while 37% say they are not fans.” This means that for every four men three of them are sports fans, and for every four women about two would consider themselves fans as well. The vast majority of this group claims that football is their favorite sport to watch (37%), with Basketball (13%) and Baseball (10%) falling behind (Gallup). So, when the NFL and other media agencies struggled to come up with a non-political approach, it affected a large sum of fans. If the ultimate source (the sports media) of sports news has biased, non-tolerant views, then in return, many of the viewers will also.

Sports and politics should remain separate. People have the right to know what is going on in the world of sports without having to hear different reporters or anchors ramble on about issues that are completely unrelated to the viewer’s passion. There have been many attempts to fulfill this vision, but sadly, most of them have failed to stay true to their word.

In contrast to these companies putting a temporary hold on the separation of agendas and sports, the future looks bright. We are a brand new generation of sports news reporting and are excited and motivated to help change the division that politics has fostered. Even though we are small right now, we hope that we will begin to leave a bigger impact on not only the sports world, but the collective American society as well.

Cited Sources:

Gallup, Inc. “Sports.” Gallup.com, news.gallup.com/poll/15421/sports.aspx.Lebowitz, Shana, and Alyson Shontell. “What the CEO of Barstool Sports Says to People Who Call the Site ‘Sexist’.” Business Insider, 12 Feb. 2018, www.businessinsider.com/barstool-sports-sexism-ceo-responds-2018-2.McCarthy, Michael M. “Shock Poll: A Third of NFL TV Viewers Boycotting Games Because of Colin Kaepernick-Led Protests.” Sporting News, 5 Oct. 2016, www.sportingnews.com/us/other-sports/news/nfl-tv-ratings-rasmussen-reports-poll-colin-kaepernick-anthem-protest-reaction-effect/95jdoch1ngj103xvbkllcbvk.Ramachandran, Shalini. “How a Weakened ESPN Became Consumed by Politics.” The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 24 May 2018, www.wsj.com/articles/how-a-weakened-espn-became-consumed-by-politics-1527176425.“Rich Eisen Quotes.” BrainyQuote, Xplore, www.brainyquote.com/quotes/rich_eisen_865999.“Robert Kennedy Quotes.” BrainyQuote, Xplore, www.brainyquote.com/quotes/robert_kennedy_745941?src=t_sports.Swan, Andy. “ESPN’s Politics Are Killing Its Brand.” Forbes Magazine, 11 Oct. 2017, www.forbes.com/sites/andyswan/2017/10/11/espns-politics-are-killing-its-brand/#5825844f1429.“The Power of Sports.” NYU Press, nyupress.org/9781479887316/the-power-of-sports/.“U.S. Hockey Team Beats the Soviets in the ‘Miracle on Ice’.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 24 Nov. 2009, www.history.com/this-day-in-history/u-s-hockey-team-makes-miracle-on-ice.“Vision.” Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/vision.