Sports used to be a bastion of conservative mores and traditional values such as hard work, teamwork, competition and, yes, manliness. Today, while many athletes and coaches exhibit these values, much of the business and media surrounding the industry have embraced a liberalism that not only disapproves of these values but actively seeks to eliminate them.
The sporting arena has come to resemble a college campus, where every perceived slight is an opportunity to complain and demonstrate. In short, sports have become a circus of political correctness, particularly on issues related to religious faith, race and sexual orientation.
The latest controversy involves 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who has taken to sitting, then kneeling during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner.
Kaepernick is protesting against perceived racial injustices. “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 told the media after his initial protest, adding, “There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
Kaepernick’s protests have taken other forms. At one practice he wore socks that depicted police as pigs. He says he will continue to sit or kneel during the National Anthem until the oppression stops.
The NFL has been divided by Kaepernick’s stand. Some players have joined him in various demonstrations while others have spoken out against it. Before a game last Monday night, another 49ers player knelt along side Kaepernick, while several players on the opposition Los Angeles Rams raised their fists during the anthem.
Yet, the evidence suggests that most players and coaches have a deep sense of patriotism. A few hours before the 49ers game, players on the Washington Redskins and Pittsburgh Steelers joined members of the military as a field-sized American flag was unfurled during the national anthem.
Those protesting the flag and anthem seem to misunderstand what those things stand for. They are symbols of the best of what America has been and can be. They are in essence aspirational in nature. To stand and honor the flag and the nation is not to suggest that America has not committed wrongs or that injustice doesn’t still exist. But the flag is supposed to be a reminder of all that we can be, which is why it should unite all Americans.
A broader point is that the Kaepernick controversy has underscored how politically correct most American sports leagues, and the media that cover them, have become. The NFL, not surprisingly, has taken the default position of satisfying the left by not disciplining players for their protests. Both the 49ers and the NFL have referenced the right of payers to express themselves through their protests.
But this is the same league that threatened North Carolina over a law that requires people to use the bathrooms that correspond with their biological sex. It also lambasted Georgia when it considered legislation to ensure that the First Amendment rights of pastors were protected so they would not be forced to participate in same-sex weddings. And it refused to allow the Dallas Cowboys to honor police officers during regular season games.
The NFL is not the only sports league to come down hard on traditional values. The NCAA announced this week that it is boycotting the state of North Carolina over the bathroom law. Meanwhile, at Army over the weekend, a post-game locker room prayer is being investigated for possible Constitutional violations. The prayer, the U.S. Military Academy’s top general said, “crossed the line,” because non-Christian players might have felt left out or pressured to take part.
Kaepernick has received mostly positive coverage from journalists, which is interesting given the mockery many journalists heaped on Tim Tebow for his displays of Christianity.
No sports outlet tows the liberal line more than mighty ESPN. In 2011, it publicly scolded golf analyst Paul Azinger for chiding President Obama for spending too much time on the green in a bad economy. Azinger’s employer said he was not allowed to engage in political commentary on social media and said that kind of talk should be “best left to those in that field.”
Earlier this year, ESPN fired Curt Shilling for posting a crude meme on his personal Facebook page about transgender bathrooms. Meanwhile, the network did nothing when an employee compared the Tea Party to ISIS. In response to the Shilling episode, ESPN stated, without a hint of self-awareness or irony, that it is “an inclusive company.”
Conservatives often complain that the political media is biased against them. But the sports media, populated by liberal reporters and opinion columnists, may be even more in the tank for the left.
If turning on the TV to watch a sport becomes just another episode of political correctness imposed on viewers, don’t be surprised if respect for the players, teams and leagues diminish, and the money to be made from them disappears.
Former presidential candidate Gary Bauer is president of American Values and chairman of the Campaign for Working Families.