September 27, 2017
So, as if the world of sports isn’t off-centered enough, consider this past weekend’s journey around the nation’s athletic universe and you will find a bizarre combination of sports, politics and even wildlife.
And we should all thank the heavens for the wildlife.
It is only fitting that in a sports world that has gone nuts, the best reminder of the safe place once provided by athletic competition was provided by a squirrel.
A little grey squirrel with moves like Jagger and with a nose for the end zone.
Just a bit of a warning here: With such serious discussions going on, this lapse into a rodent’s flight of fancy might seem a bit trivial. Then again, the whole point here is that many sports fans are upset at the loss of a trivial pursuit of enjoyment.
For those who missed it, the squirrel in question was on the field Saturday afternoon during the Louisville vs Kent State football game, and as it began a mad dash for the end zone the crowd stood and roared. The announcers didn’t let the moment evaporate, and for a brief moment all were united in hoping the creature reached the end zone – and it did.
Once there, said squirrel did not make a fool of itself and act like Odell Beckham. The squirrel did not act like a dog, and the squirrel did not have an agenda, other than maybe hiding an acorn.
Nope, Mr. Squirrel just stood there, and the crowd cheered. No sides here, no rooting interest. No political statement. No agenda.
Just pure fun.
Unfortunately, those days of just pure fun at sporting events have evaporated in the US versus Them agenda of America these days. In this crazy concoction of sports and politics, nobody appears is safe from criticism.
For whatever reason, the man in the White House decided to get involved in the whole NFL issue involving protesting during the national anthem, and all of a sudden what had been a smoldering issue turned into a bonfire of emotions.
It should have come as no surprise that after calling the NFL players who protested SOBs, the players and owners of the NFL displayed their contempt by their own show of unity. By the end of the weekend and into Monday night, NFL teams put on their own protests against the president’s declaration, and the entire issue was re-ignited.
Mind you, it didn’t stop with the NFL. Major League Baseball had its own protest, and from every corner of professional sports there were opinions flying like errant pass attempts.
The biggest of big hitters lined up to make their voices heard, with names such as LeBron James and Tom Brady checking in to be counted.
The complaints even rolled over into NASCAR, where a legendary NASCAR hero and team owner Richard Petty landed on one side of the issue, and racing's biggest star, Dale Earnhardt Jr., landed on the other.
It is such a sticky situation that even those who want to stay neutral are dragged into the crossfire. Such is the case of the Pittsburgh Penguins, the reigning Stanley Cup champs. The Penguins reiterated their intention to go to the White House as part of their championship booty, but now that is being viewed as an endorsement – partly because the man in the White House, who was rebuffed by the NBA champs, called Pittsburgh a great team as he mentioned their intention to stop by the Rose Garden.
Amazingly, powerful sports reporters in Canada suggested the Penguins should stay away, because they were being used as political fodder.
It was not supposed to be an endorsement, just a fun trip. Then again, there isn’t much fun these days before or after the whistles.
Not so long ago, if you were fortunate enough to work in the media covering sports it was called the Fun and Games department, Once the games actually start you can still lose yourself in the competition, but before and after there is just so much noise that the volatile combination of sports and politics has turned into anything but fun and games.
It is difficult to place blame on players who are attempting to use their platform to bring light to a subject. It is especially difficult to argue that they should stick to sports when a player such as J.J. Watt just recently raised those millions for hurricane relief.
Indeed, there are times when you can’t just run away from an issue, like a squirrel with no direction. There is a long history of sports figures leading the way in social causes, and this whole country is so divided right now you wonder how people in any city can even get together and cheer for the same team.
It is unfortunate that the NFL and its players were chastised and berated to the point they simply had to band together and literally turn this past weekend into what is truly a political football rally.
The irony here is that sports are supposed to bring us all together, and at least this past weekend we had a 61-yard field goal in Philadelphia to make us feel better, and a bonkers squirrel on a college field to make us remember that it can all be so much fun.
Perhaps it will actually be the world of sports that makes everybody realize we have to put down the signs that say “hooray for our side” and for a change, listen to the other side.