As American athletes compete in the Tokyo Olympics on the other side of the world, a storm of wokeness is turning sports — once a shining example of color-blind meritocracy — into just another battle ground of the culture war at home.
In the five years since Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the National Anthem, sports has gone from a unifying diversion to another division. And wokeness keeps winning.
In baseball, the Cleveland Indians just announced that they will become the Cleveland Guardians starting next season. What these Guardians will guard—other than fragile feelings in faculty lounges far away from Cleveland—remains unknown.
In football, the former Washington Redskins still wait in sports purgatory as the even more meaningless Washington Football Team. It’s no wonder that the team looks lost on the field.
All this woke virtue signaling is a far cry from the power of American sports in the past.
Just think of Jesse Owens winning four gold medals at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Hitler could spew racist rhetoric all he wanted, and Nazis could hang their banners and chant their slogans. But, after the gun fired and the race started, Owens humiliated them on their own soil.
And when the Star-Spangled Banner played, he saluted.
And who could forget the iconic scene of baseball superstar Sammy Sosa circling Wrigley Field carrying an American Flag before his first home game after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001? When Slammin’ Sammy hit a homerun in the second inning, he carried Old Glory around the bases with him again, evoking a thunderous, patriotic roar from the crowd.
Again and again, athletes in the past of all colors have worn red, white, and blue. Again and again, they proved the American ideal: a person’s talent and hard work are more important than a person’s background.
That’s why sports are the perfect American stage. Inside the lines, talent is everything. Skin color doesn’t make you run any slower or throw a ball any farther. Your last name can’t save you. And team identity—not identity politics—determines success.
More than any other sport, basketball once captured this ideal, showing the way forward on race relations.
Take Bill Russell, the Hall-of-Fame center for the Boston Celtics in the 1950s and 1960s. Sure, he heard racist taunts from fans. But, inside the league and on the court, he won five MVP awards, eleven championships, and ultimately became the first black coach of any major professional sports team and the first to win a championship.
But the two players themselves never did. In fact, they constantly rebuked efforts to make their rivalry about anything other than basketball. Through the fires of athletic competition, these two legends of the game, one black and one white, formed a unique bond based on mutual respect that transcended any racial divide the media attempted to impose on them.
That’s ancient history now. Once a great proving ground for the power of a color-blind meritocracy, basketball now reflects the decline of the American consensus on the desirability of color-blindness.
In fact, the NBA as a league often appears to be more focused on promoting certain political causes than actually producing a watchable product for fans, thereby undermining the great strides in racial progress made by players of past generations.
For example, players today across the NBA wear Black Lives Matter t-shirts so often that video games now include the shirts for in-game play. In case you missed the BLM merchandise in warm-ups, “Black Lives Matter” was also painted across all NBA courts for most of the abbreviated 2020 season.
The NBA’s brightest star for the last fifteen years, LeBron James, has made more news for his statements on “systematic voter suppression” than for his performance on the court in recent years.
But despite what ESPN and the liberal media want you to believe, the numbers show that fans just aren’t that crazy about the new activist NBA.
Perhaps most telling of all – and most concerning for the billionaire owners who run NBA franchises – NBA television ratings have plummeted in recent years. Even during the middle of the pandemic last year, at a time when ratings for other shows were skyrocketing, one NBA Finals game drew only 5.9 million viewers, and the first game of the 2020 Finals had the lowest viewership ever for a Game 1. While ratings for the 2021 Finals were up from the previous year, the numbers still showed a 34% decrease in viewership from 2019.
The left-wing bent of the NBA is also affecting players’ business endeavors off the court. James’s new Space Jam film reboot has made less than $100 million worldwide, compared to Michael Jordan’s original, which made over $230 million. The film was an embarrassing flop for someone who is consistently rated among the top-3 most famous athletes in the world.
It’s just too bad that, as the NBA becomes the Woke NBA, “WNBA” is already taken as an acronym.
But that might not last long—a whole league closed to everyone except women? That seems far too exclusive—far too gendered—for the woke left of 2021 who apparently now control the direction of seemingly every major American sports league.
By all indications the Woke leagues will certainly be continuing their activism. The only question is, how much longer will anyone watch?
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