Every so often, even though I know better, I flip over while driving and scan my favorite sports talk radio stations. Unfortunately, ESPN radio has become insufferable just like the rest of the network. It was only on for about 10 seconds before I heard someone say something to the effect of, “Where sports and social justice meet.” I turned it off.
It’s not that I don’t care about justice or am indifferent to our social problems. They are real and need to be addressed. It’s one of the reasons I write for this website and am actively engaged in ministry. But Jonah Goldberg wrote something very profound the other day. Profound and exactly right:
We need politics in fewer of our cultural institutions, not more.
I could not agree more. Politics is divisive by its very nature. That’s okay; the world would be a very boring place if everyone thought the same way. But if everything is divisive, if everything is a debate, if everything is acrimonious and contentious, then there will be no time left for social cohesion, unity, and brotherhood. That’s dangerous and deadly.
That’s why I think what the NBA is getting ready to do is such a poor idea:
The NBA and the National Basketball Players Association have agreed to a list of 29 social justice messages that players can display on their jerseys during the upcoming restart of the basketball season.
Black Lives Matter; Say Their Names; Vote; I Can’t Breathe; Justice; Peace; Equality; Freedom; Enough; Power to the People; Justice Now; Say Her Name; Sí Se Puede (Yes We Can); Liberation; See Us; Hear Us; Respect Us; Love Us; Listen; Listen to Us; Stand Up; Ally; Anti-Racist; I Am A Man; Speak Up; How Many More; Group Economics; Education Reform; and Mentor.
Now, with as silly as I think it will be to see an NBA player with “Group Economics” emblazoned on the back of his jersey, I want to be clear (again) that my problem isn’t with the message. I believe that black lives matter, I believe we should say the names of the victims of police brutality rather than let them become statistics, I believe that keeping power in the hands of the people is wiser than the alternative. The problem isn’t the message.
The problem is that by ripping the message out of the divisive arena of politics and injecting it into our national sports pastimes, we are taking away yet another area of our lives where camaraderie and fellowship flourish. Goldberg wrote:
[T]hey might just be launching a woke arms race across professional sports, that will leave the country more politicized and more polarized and render sports another realm where we can’t take a break from what divides us.
Forget what people think of LeBron James when they see him sporting an “Education Reform” jersey. Instead consider the (false) accusations that will fly against players who want to just have their own names on the back of their uniforms and steer clear of the political cesspool.
You can already hear “woke” sports journalists in post-game interviews not asking a player about his sluggish rebounding effort but instead,
- “Why didn’t you have a social justice message on the back of your jersey?”
- “Do you not agree with the movement?”
- “How do your teammates feel about you not having one?”
- “Do they see you as supportive or is it causing friction in the locker room?”
This is what we’re in for, and only a fool can think it’s going to end well.