Standing on principle

They throw the ball, hit the ball, kick the ball, bounce the ball, and stop the puck. The fact they do it better than 99.9 percent of the world is the reason they’re paid millions of dollars.

But it’s also why we pay attention when professional athletes say or do something outside of their field of play and why they’re a magnet for vitriol for those who don’t agree, no matter the side.

More and more, athletes from both sides of the ideological divide are airing their political views and it creates discomfort for those who had cheered them but may differ in world view. The latest to draw the wrath and praise of a divided fandom is Colin Kaepernick, for the moment a quarterback with the San Francisco 49ers.

During the playing of the national anthem before the Niners preseason game against the Green Bay Packers Friday night, Kaepernick sat. He later said in an interview it’s the beginning of a protest for him to bring attention to what he says is the systemic mistreatment of blacks in the country by law enforcement and political officials.

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” he said to NFL Media the day after the game. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way.”

Kaepernick is biracial, put up for adoption by his teenage mother after his father left. He was raised by a white couple. So, of course, Kaepernick’s critics, such as Curt Schilling, himself no stranger to drawing flak for political declarations, had to gang tackle the struggling QB and point out that he’s really not oppressed. Many declared that if Kaepernick couldn’t bring himself to stand and honor America, well, maybe he should just go stand in another country, forgetting that the reason Kaepernick can refuse to stand is because he lives in America.

No one, though, has told Schilling to move elsewhere over his comments about the commander in chief, who he constantly disrespects in interviews and on social media, nor was much said about Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, a close friend of Donald Trumprefusing to go to the White House last year when President Obama honored the team for winning the Super Bowl.

But one local athlete who had been the target of much vitriol after his public and loud decision to not attend a White House ceremony was former Bruins goalie Tim Thomas, a dyed-in-the-wool Tea Party member who famously posted his reasons on social media.

“I believe the Federal government has grown out of control, threatening the Rights, Liberties, and Property of the People,” Thomas wrote on his Facebook page. “This is being done at the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial level. This is in direct opposition to the Constitution and the Founding Fathers vision for the Federal government.”

Thomas was later traded, basically, for a bag of pucks and a case of Gatorade and not thought about a lot since. No one, though, has explained why we give outsized weight to the opinion of sports figures. They certainly have the right to express their opinions, but why do we cheer or boo their athletic performance because they don’t support our views? Does their ability extend to political insight we don’t possess?

There is, though, a history of athletes, especially black athletes, making political statements that resonate with the times. Celtics center Bill Russell marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, although he was the target of racism in Boston that caused him to abandon the city for decades despite his role in 11 world championships. Muhammad Ali. Enough said.

Maybe it’s the internet, or maybe it’s the sharply divided age we live in, but gone are the days of Michael Jordan refusing to become involved in the US Senate race between longtime segregationist Sen. Jesse Helms and Harvey Gantt, the first black mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina. Jordan’s reasoning? “Republicans buy sneakers, too.”



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