“Stick to sports” is a lazy anachronism that people in power use to steal the right to free speech from free citizens.
Recently, the American sports network ESPN — the self-dubbed world-wide leader in sports — worked to censor radio personality Dan Le Batard for comments he made on his show against President Donald Trump.
Le Batard called out Trump for attacks Le Batard viewed as racist towards four congresswomen including New York representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Le Batard also said that ESPN is “cowardly” for having policies that restrict staff from voicing their political beliefs.
The incident lead to Le Batard having to correspond with ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro, who stated ESPN’s policy at a media event in August 2018.
“I will tell you I have been very, very clear with employees here that it is not our jobs to cover politics, purely,” Pitaro told reporters
While Le Batard’s show will continue on ESPN going forward, the incident is similar to another ESPN issue which led to former ESPN host and commentator Jemele Hill leaving the company after she called Trump a “white supremacist” on Twitter.
While America, and the western world as whole, are divided politically — the right to free speech should not be divided and the powers that be in the sports world have always tried to pretend that sports are apolitical.
You do not have to agree with Hill or Le Batard’s views to understand they have a right to express them and by telling sports journalists and personalities to “stick to sports”, you are removing their rights to free expression.
The argument against this, of course, is that viewers watch sports in order to escape from a political world with real stakes — but this ignores thousands of years of history that shows that sports have always — and will always – be part of our collective political narrative.
Perhaps most famously, chariot racing — ancient Rome’s most favourite sport — was often staged against a political backdrop, with rival political factions throwing their support behind their own riders.
More recently, sports has given the world seminal political moments such as African-American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos each raising a black-gloved fist during the playing of the US national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner”, after they won gold and bronze medals in the 200 m running event at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City.
More local and anecdotal, clashes between Soviet and Canadian hockey teams, such as the famous 1972 Summit Series, are often portrayed as a social war between western capitalism and eastern communism.
Essentially, sports since time immemorial has been a platform for society to freely express their views and opinions.
To be clear, isolating the sports world from the political world is not only unfeasible — it is also censorship.
Athletes, sports commentators, sports journalist and any other sports personalities in a free society should be able to express and comment on the world around them without fear of repercussion.
By telling the sports world to stick to sports, you are creating a society anathema to free speech.