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COLUMN: Sports media shouldn’t just “stick to sports”

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first_imgFor anyone who knows me, there’s no question that I love sports. But there is a phrase — other than “the Warriors blew a 3-1 lead” — that I absolutely abhor, whether it’s online or in person: “Stick to sports.”While sports journalism is my specialty, I consider myself a journalist first, as do many fellow sports media members that I follow on Twitter. But I see it all the time, when a “sportswriter” has the gall to tweet about politics or lifestyle or something other than sports: “Stick to sports.”It also applies to athletes. Whenever a famous athlete — like LeBron James or Stephen Curry — dares to venture opinions outside of their profession, they are met with a tirade from brave social media warriors: “Stick to sports.”It is not only incredibly naive, but also condescending and insulting, treating “us” — the collective sports world — like we aren’t qualified to discuss anything beyond sports.This is especially relevant in today’s charged political climate. As the nation grapples with a Donald Trump presidency, we’ve seen athletes use their platforms to make their opinions heard. We’ve seen sportswriters who usually don’t stray from their beat throw their hats into the political ring.Tim Kawakami, a long-time sports columnist for the San Jose Mercury News whom I grew up reading and fills my timeline with daily sports opinions and analysis, tweeted about Trump’s immigration ban last month.“My mother was born in America, but was put in an internment camp during World War II as a child, for no reason except fear & hatred,” he said.It was retweeted over 1,300 times, and showcased the broader point that just because our main domain is sports does not mean that we don’t have opinions or interests outside of sporting events.Unfortunately, it feels like we in the sports media too often surround ourselves in a sports bubble, trapped by the notion that we are specifically “sports” media, too afraid to venture into the real world. I can’t tell you how many times I have wanted to comment on social media about a breaking news story, only to think, “I’m a sportswriter. People follow me for sports reasons, so they’ll think it’s weird, and someone will probably tell me to stick to sports,” and hit the backspace button.Sure, covering sports is how we dip our feet into the media world. It’s part of our job description, it’s what we’re paid to do and why people read our articles. But to limit ourselves only perpetuates the “stick to sports” perspective — one that paints sportswriters as unable to opine about anything else but sports, oblivious to the world around them.However, the Trump administration is giving athletes — and sportswriters — the impetus to come out of their shells. “A sportswriter doesn’t have to ‘stick to sports’ if the athletes don’t,” Bryan Curtis, the editor-at-large at the Ringer, wrote last month.And athletes and coaches, thankfully, have not. In a trend that started last year with Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the national anthem to protest race relations, prominent sports figures have felt emboldened by the current political climate. Gregg Popovich and Steve Kerr, two of the most respected coaches in the NBA, spoke out vehemently against Trump’s travel ban. LeBron James, the best basketball player in the world, called it “un-American.” Curry, the defending two-time MVP and face of Under Armour who usually avoids making controversial public statements, had the best line when asked about Under Armour chief executive Kevin Plank’s comment that Trump was a “real asset” to the country.“I agree with that description, if you remove the -et,’” Curry said to the Mercury News.Curry, who could be worth a reported $14.1 billion to Under Armour and is signed with them until 2024, went on to say that he wouldn’t have a problem with abandoning the brand if its platform wasn’t in line with his views.Such political statements from superstar athletes have opened a window for the sports media to write stories outside the traditional norm of sports, to speak more freely on social media and be more willing to question athletes on their non-sports views.Tom Brady, now considered the greatest quarterback of all time after another Super Bowl win, caught a lot of flak when a “Make America Great Again” hat was spotted in his locker last year. He was criticized even more when he brushed aside questions during Super Bowl media day regarding his support for Trump by saying he was a positive person who didn’t know what was going in the world and wasn’t paying attention to news events like the immigration ban or the women’s march (yes, actually).Ultimately, it’s up to the person. If Brady wants to keep his political opinions out of the media, he has the right to do so. And sportswriters shouldn’t necessarily feel compelled to voice their political stances when that’s not what they’re paid to do. Nonetheless, it is important that athletes and the media who cover them aren’t afraid to step out and use their platforms, especially at a time when political activism is spiking. And it’s just as important that people respect those opinions and not dismiss them as simply comments from a “dumb jock” or an “out-of-touch, multi-millionaire athlete.”I’ll leave you with what Martellus Bennett, one of five New England Patriots not-so-subtly skipping the team’s post-Super Bowl visit to the White House, tweeted about the labels placed on him.“When you look at me what do you see? I know you wanna ask me what sport I play. I mean what else could I possibly be besides an athlete,” Bennett said. “When you look at me see the father, the awesome dad, the author, film director, business owner, champion, friend, Hufflepuff beast.”Yes, athletes are committed to sports, as are those who write about them. But we can — and should — treat ourselves and, likewise, be treated as so much more. Never just “stick to sports.” Please, never do.Eric He is a sophomore studying print and digital journalism. He is also an associate managing editor for the Daily Trojan. His column, Grinding Gears, runs on Fridays.last_img read more