In the wake of what can be described as nothing other than the Donald Trump Fascist KKK Rally in North Carolina earlier this week, ESPN Radio personality, Dan LeBatard, spoke out and called out the ‘Send her back’ chants as racist and un-American:
“So, what happened last night. This felt un-American. Basically, a chant, ‘Send her back.’ It’s not the America that my parents came to get for us … There’s a racial division in this country that’s being instigated by the president.”
If we were living in a normal timeline, we would appreciate what he said. Its always laudable to speak out. But why did LeBatard’s three minutes soliloquy catch fire and trend all over social media?
Because we’re not living in a normal timeline. We’re living in an era of increasing racism, white nationalism, nativism, and creeping fascism, but all the while, many of our political leaders and many in the corporate and media world, in particular the sports media, are not speaking out or seeming to do anything about it at all.
Given the reluctance of “the sports and sports media industry” to speak out on these “divisive issues,” the fact that he said what he said was surprising. Interestingly, despite what must by now be clear ESPN guidelines to steer clear of politics, LeBatard addressed that very issue head-on:
And we here at ESPN haven’t had the stomach for that fight because Jemele (Hill) did some things on Twitter, and you saw what happened after that. Then, here, all of the sudden, nobody talks politics on anything unless we can use one of these sports figures as a meat shield in the most cowardly possible way to discuss the subject.
That’s what you’re seeing, and the only way we can discuss it around here — because this isn’t about politics, it’s about race — what you’re seeing happening around here is about race being turned into politics. And we only talk about it around here when Steve Kerr or Popovich says something. We don’t talk about what is happening unless there’s some sort of weak cowardly sports angle that we can run it through. When sports has been a place where this stuff changes.
Former ESPN anchor, Jemele Hill, who left ESPN over controversy that she was too politically outspoken (also for calling out racism as – you guessed it! – racist), took up the mantle from LeBatard, throwing her support behind him on Twitter last night:
Courageous, accurate commentary by Dan. I’m sure stick-to-sports-Guy/girl is having a meltdown somewhere, but one of the many reasons I left is that I was tired of the pretense Dan discusses here. https://t.co/DbVZZQD0fM
— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) July 19, 2019
ESPN isn’t a political network, but to me (and Dan), racism isn’t political. It is right and wrong. Silence or tolerance of racism IS racist, because that means on some level, you’re OK with other people being dehumanized.
— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) July 19, 2019
Jemele Hill is right. Whenever we started letting people get away with defining standing up to racism as “political,” is the point where we went careening off the slippery slope towards this toxic stew of racism and fascism that we find ourselves in.
There should be nothing “divisive” about a human being talking about a human issue that impacts their life and is impacting the lives of people around them. While “politics” has become a dirty word, it is far dirtier to dismiss it as this annoying side thing that gets in the way of our sports entertainment.
The fact of the matter is, because politics is how we as humans work together to address our social and cultural issues, every issue is “political.” And athletes and fans are affected by many of these issues. To pretend otherwise, to say “shut up and dribble” or “let’s just stick to sports” is to strip athletes and fans of our humanity.
As Megan Rapinoe recently said:
Yes we play sports. Yes we play soccer. Yes we’re female athletes but we’re so much more than that. You’re so much more than that. You’re more than a fan. You’re more than someone who just supports sport. You’re more than someone who tunes in every four years. You’re someone who walks these streets every single day. You interact with your community every single day. How do you make your community better? How do you make the people around you better? Your family? Your closest friends? The 10 closest people to you? The 20 closest people to you? The most 100 closest people to you? It’s every single person’s responsibility.
This is one reason I’ve always loved writing for #GMPSports at The Good Men Project.
Yes, we cover sports, but we don’t shy away from talking about the big social and cultural issues. we use it as a lens and force-multiplier to discuss our biggest social issues, like racism, sexism, bullying, education, mental health, and masculinity (to name a few). We publish pieces that we can build dialogue around on issues that connect sports with our larger culture and society. This means, a mix of ‘the good’ and ‘the bad,’ from the beauty and grace of sports, teamwork, role models, from humor to poignant, to the tough stuff where Sports acts like a prism and amplifier of our culture.
To be sure, we are here for all the good stuff that happens both on and off the field (or the court).
We are also here for when Kyle Korver of the NBA speaks out about white privilege and how to be a good ally.
Or when Kevin Love and Royce White speak out about mental health.
Or to talk about the disposability of men and athletes and why we expect them to come back from brutal injuries fast, throw 100 MPH fastballs over and over and over again despite the risk of serious arm injury, and play and watch sports that risk serious brain injuries.
In sum, at Good Men Project Sports, we are looking at the multi-dimensionality of sports, just like we are looking at the multi-dimensionality of men. What we are doing at #GMPSports is making sports –and the conversation around sports– more inclusionary. This is a profound change –changing the very fabric of sports and masculinity– we think for the better.
These are the stories we tell, and these are the stories we will keep telling. Glad to see some others breaking away from the corporate bonds of ESPN and daring to do the same.
Photo Credit: YouTube/Dan LeBatard Show (Screen Cap)