Last Sunday Night, the NFL season concluded with a Super Bowl that is instantly being considered one of the best in the fifty-one-year history of pro football’s championship game. Much of the reason is due to the New England Patriots’ record-breaking 25-point comeback en route to a 34-28 victory over the Atlanta Falcons. It was an instant classic and safely has a spot amongst the most entertaining football games in recent memory.
Fortunately for sports fans, we have had the pleasure of witnessing a great collection of season finishes over the past twelve months. It started with Villanova hitting a buzzer beater to defeat North Carolina in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship Game, followed up by an exhilarating NBA Finals when the Cleveland Cavaliers came back from a 3-1 deficit to top the 73-win Golden State Warriors.
The NBA Finals were not the only championship series to feature a 3-1 comeback, as the Chicago Cubs completed an identical rally against the Cleveland Indians to win their first World Series since 1908. A few months later in January, we witnessed the rare championship game rematch in college football when the Clemson Tigers topped the Alabama Crimson Tide 35-31.
The aforementioned championship games have not only provided viewers with impeccable entertainment, they’ve provided a temporary getaway from events that have contributed to what many people have considered being a tumultuous year. Most sports fans reacted to these games with the sentiment of “That’s why we love sports”, or “It’s games like that which make me a sports fan.” It’s unscripted drama that many viewers tune in for the same reason they do for their favorite television show: To be entertained and experience a temporary escape from reality.
Fans have watched, cheered and cried while being enthralled with captivating and unforgettable games that despite the news of the day, week or month, allowed for us to escape for a few hours at a time. It is impossible to ignore the current political climate in America, and its impact on everyday life. Even the most disinterested and apathetic citizen has been affected in one way or another. It started with multiple tragic shootings and acts of violence involving police officers. Each tragedy has reignited heated debates on controversial issues such as gun control, police brutality and race relations.
The NFL Season kicked off with San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem. According to Kaepernick, the intention behind the action was to make a statement about police violence. The actions inspired strong and spirited debate regarding the merits of his protest. There were clearly two sides: Those who viewed his kneeling as disrespectful and those who supported his message.
In future weeks, more football players replicated Kaepernick in support of his protest against police brutality. Naturally, this led to more conversation among the public on the issue. Regardless of what side of the argument you are on, the key here is that the actions of a professional athlete got the American people talking about an issue that is very far removed from sports.
In addition to the issue at hand, it has raised a much bigger question: What is the 2017 role of sports? Is it a distraction from the real world or is a platform for those athletes in the spotlight to spread awareness on issues much bigger than the games they play?
If you asked most people, I am extremely confident we are just as split on this question as we are on matters like political parties or gun control. A considerable amount of the population will tell you that they turn to sports as an escape from the world and its problems.The other camp will say that athletes should take advantage of their platform and to be an advocate for causes that are important to them.
Michael Jordan drew a lot of criticism throughout his career for not expressing his political ideologies or even acting as a proponent of racial equality. His response to this criticism was always simple and diplomatic, in that he never wanted to alienate anyone who would potentially buy his shoes.
Following an extremely divisive presidential election, more professional athletes, coaches, and commentators have felt compelled to voice their opinion. Much like the result of Colin Kaepernick’s protests, the reactions have been very mixed and we are very much at a crossroad of determining the largest purpose of sports and those on the big stage.
It is a longstanding tradition for teams winning a championship to visit the White House and meet the President of the United States. As of week following the game, six members of the New England Patriots have made it known that they do not plan to make the trip, citing their opposition to Donald Trump.
It’s not a secret that several Americans oppose Donald Trump. Yet not all Americans have the platform that professional athletes do. Naturally, athletes’ opinions are going to be heard by more people. Most athletes are conscious of it and use it as an opportunity to express their feelings on matters much bigger than sports. The Patriots players took to Twitter to explain their motives behind boycotting a visit to the White House.
To say the reaction has been split would be an understatement. Those who support the message are cheering on the athletes for taking a stand while another section of the population is giving the “Stick to sports” response. The “Stick to sports” has become an increasingly more common reaction to those in the sports world who have utilized their platform to make political statements.
These are clearly the fans that want sports to be a distraction or recess from the real world. Feeling that way is completely understandable. But going back to Muhammad Ali refusing to fight in the Vietnam War in 1967, several athletes have utilized their platform for a variety of reasons non-sports related. In 2017, that trend does not appear to be slowing down at all.
While most people turn to sports for the distraction, they’ll have to come to grips with knowing that the days of sports being completely removed from society and its problems are long gone. In the tug of war between “Platform vs Distraction”, platform has pulled ahead in 2017.
Photo Credit: http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2016/06/06/4476202.htm