I have to stick to sports, but President Donald Trump doesn’t have to stick to governing?
Trump can say LeBron James is dumb, but I can’t say Colin Kaepernick is courageous?
Do I have that about right?
Sportswriters and sports columnists get the stick-to-sports criticism whenever we venture into areas that some readers believe should be reserved for other parts of the newspaper. In response, we argue that it’s hard to separate sports from real life when drugs, economics, domestic abuse, cheating, racial issues and mental-health problems are woven into the fabric of the games we cover.
Now we have the president of the United States tweeting that James is unintelligent. It’s difficult to stick to sports when the leader of the most powerful country in the world takes the time to call a basketball player stupid.
“Lebron James was just interviewed by the dumbest man on television, Don Lemon,” Trump tweeted. “He made Lebron look smart, which isn’t easy to do. I like Mike!”
Remind me again: We sports columnists are supposed to limit our discussion to what happens between the lines? Sorry, no.
I consider Trump’s LeBron criticism an executive order making it mandatory for sportswriters to keep exploring broader topics.
It’s impossible to stick to sports when the president rips NFL players for protesting what they perceive as racial injustice by kneeling during the national anthem.
It’s impossible to stick to sports when professional athletes and teams turn down invitations to the White House because they don’t agree with some of Trump’s policies.
You can’t ignore these things, any more than you can ignore what James has to say about the world that exists outside of basketball.
“What I’ve noticed over the past few months is [that Trump has] kind of used sports to kind of divide us, and that’s something that I can’t relate to,” James said.
That’s exactly what Trump has done. It takes a perceptive person to see that. So James is dumb? Hardly.
The president uses sports like a bludgeon when he’s trying to take attention away from one unpleasantness or another. Nothing says “Russian collusion? What Russian collusion?’’ more than a tweet calling James an imbecile.
Trump wades into the anthem controversy whenever he’s under attack or whenever he wants to bring his base to its feet. He knows it’s popular with voters who don’t like the idea of athletes protesting social issues. So he’ll call it a DISGRACE on Twitter and talk about our great flag and the men and women who sacrificed their lives in combat, even though the national anthem or the protests have nothing to do with the military.
A sports columnist writes about these bigger issues and is told to stick to sports, which is the journalism equivalent of being told to “shut up and dribble.’’ That’s what Fox News host and Trump booster Laura Ingraham told James to do in February. Sports and sports journalism haven’t operated that way in at least 40 years.
Column writing is like that announcement at the airport: If you see something, say something. So we see and say, even if it might be outside what some consider the traditional boundaries of sports.
Now we have a president who has a lot to say about sports and everything else. He can’t stop tweeting. It’s why we go headlong from one controversy to the next, with a storm of bile and invective along for the ride.
He’s an oversized reflection of the ugly us-against-them mentality on social media. It’s not enough to disagree with someone anymore. You have to attempt to eviscerate him, in the hopes that his family and descendants will change their names, live lives of hollowness and desolation and pursue careers in telemarketing.
There’s another, more mature way to approach controversial issues. Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, who is black and opposed to players kneeling during the anthem, showed us how last month.
“I never protest during the anthem, and I don’t think that’s the time or the venue to do so,” he said. “The game of football has always brought me such a peace, and I think it does the same for a lot of people, a lot of people playing the game, a lot of people watching the game, a lot of people that have any impact of the game. So when you bring such a controversy to the stadium, to the field, to the game, it takes away. It takes away from that. It takes away from the joy and the love that football brings to a lot of people.’’
I don’t agree with Prescott, but I understand his position and appreciate the way he thoughtfully explains it. That’s what discourse is supposed to look and sound like. It’s almost unrecognizable today.
I’m sure he’s being told to “stay in your lane,’’ the way sportswriters are. That finger-wagging admonition hasn’t worked in years. And now with a president who is all over the highway, it’s just about dead.
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