In 1965, 21 of the 80 football players selected to the 1965 All Star Game started the first racially and politically motivated protest in the NFL. Subject to obscene amounts of racism and exclusion leading up to the All Star Game, held in New Orleans, the 21 black athletes as well as some white athletes decided to boycott the game to protest their mistreatment and the NFL/AFL’s lack of awareness when deciding New Orleans as the host location. The owners and AFL subsequently changed the host site to Houston and the entire case became a standard in pro football for standing up to racism and combining politics and sports.
Before and since then, athletes across all sports have taken a stance against injustice, using their position as an athlete as their platform to speak. Especially within the last decade, athletes standing up against social injustices have been closely monitored, praised, and criticized.
Direct criticism of athletes is a very familiar occurrence thanks to social media. Fans can interact with athletes, celebrities, and other fans. Don’t limit it between fans and athletes however, some pros use it to trash talk or praise fellow athletes themselves. President Donald Trump is also one who thoroughly enjoys speaking his mind through social media, specifically Twitter, and he’s never been shy about it either. Trump has a background unlike any other president in history, and he’s also the only president with the ability to or desire to speak directly to a platform of millions with the touch of a button. Trump’s used this to his advantage to talk about situations and topics he supports or has an issue with, most notably sports. Trump himself is actually a former sports team owner (the New Jersey Generals in the USFL) and has attempted to purchase an NFL team on multiple occasions, so he’s no stranger to the world of professional athletes.
In an interview with White House Correspondent for The Hill Jordan Fabian, he discussed that “Trump tries to join the exclusive ‘clubs’ and does so by any means possible.” He forced the USFL to try and directly compete schedule-wise with the NFL after NFL owners excluded him from the figurative “club of elite sports team owners.” Trump pushed the USFL to file an anti-trust lawsuit against the NFL, but the decision literally awarded the USFL $3 and led to the discontinuation of what was originally a league with great potential. “One can parallel this attack with Trump’s attack on the media,” Fabian says. “Trump wants to promote himself and his brand and outsmart anyone who opposes him.” The media most certainly opposes Trump, and he’s waged a very public battle as a result.
The search for approval, recognition, and endorsement doesn’t end with the USFL or the media. Trump’s repeatedly attempted to build his brand within the golf world, bidding to host US Opens, PGA Tour events, and LPGA events. In a statement to First and Fan, former USGA senior director Fiona Dolan recalled, “Trump spoke with Mike Davis of the USGA and the rest of the golf world claiming he built many of his golf courses, specifically Trump National in Bedminster, NJ, with hosting a golf major in mind. He actually asked for direct feedback from the USGA while building the course to improve his chances of hosting these tournaments.” Trump’s focus was on promotion, and objectively, who’s to blame him? He’s a businessman. There’s a fine line between using a popular sports event for self promotion and using a presidential campaign however.
Obama’s hobby of playing golf was one of the biggest criticisms from Republicans from 2008 to 2016. He played golf a total of 306 times during his 8 years as president, primarily as a release. Obama played with friends, not politicians. Ironically, Trump is projected to more than double this amount if he serves for 8 years. He’s already visited a golf course 95 times so far, but Fabian emphasized that, “Trump defends his frequent visits to the golf course, where he invites members of Congress or others and gets deals done. He repeatedly states ‘I’m not wasting time.’” It certainly creates a notion of hypocrisy, but we can probably give him the benefit of the doubt for at least some of those golf trips.
Their purpose behind golfing is not the only thing Trump and Obama wildly disagree on. As a White House Correspondent, Fabian notes that, “Obama was more controlled during media sessions. Trump is less disciplined and speaks openly. He has no public versus private persona.” Obama picked and chose his battles when it came to off-topic issues as well. To Trump, however, he sees many politicized events in sports as potential political wins and often complicates the issues as a result. Sports are often described as a positive distraction from reality, but this is issue is where Jordan Fabian posed the difference between Trump’s “impulsion or calculated responses.” Trump directly tells players to stick to sports and not mix sports and politics, yet he’s the model for mixing politics with other areas. He’s focusing on sports himself rather than his position as a political leader. His background is not politics, but rather finance, real estate, and entertainment – so his entire precession to his position as president is no different than athletes mixing sports with politics.
When Steph Curry declined a White House invitation, Trump made a point of immediately jumping to Twitter and subsequently uninviting Curry. Fabian described the situation as one where, “Trump objectively craves approval. He always watches and reads interviews. He continues to have interviews with the New York Times despite labeling them as fake news. His response to Curry was a personal decision where he felt disrespected and wanted to regain approval.” It sparked a fire of tweets from other NBA players defending Curry, without necessarily giving him a boost in approval rating at all (his approval rating dropped by 6 percent over the course of the week following his tweeted uninvitation).
Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team.Stephen Curry is hesitating,therefore invitation is withdrawn!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 23, 2017
U bum @StephenCurry30 already said he ain't going! So therefore ain't no invite. Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up!
— LeBron James (@KingJames) September 23, 2017
Still wondering how this guy is running our country…. ???
— Draymond Green (@Money23Green) September 23, 2017
How you gonna withdraw an invite that somebody already said they weren't attending? ??
— Bradley Beal (@RealDealBeal23) September 23, 2017
Athletes are held to high standards because of Twitter and the sheer volume of media attention they receive. So many people question, however, the fact that Trump is held to a completely different standard. Furthermore, Trump holds these athletes like Curry or Colin Kaepernick to a completely different standard than he what holds himself to.
Curry took everything in stride, responding, “I don’t know why he feels the need to target certain individuals rather than others. I have an idea of why, but, it’s just kind of beneath, I think, a leader of a country to go that route. It’s not what leaders do.” Fabian reiterated this sentiment as well, pointing out that with his experience as a White House Correspondent for 3 years, “it’s bizarre for a president to go after an individual like Trump went after Curry or Kaepernick.”
Regardless of his ability to create or alter a narrative, by going after certain subjects like sports, he intertwines sports and politics in a way he claims to dislike himself. Statements like his tweet urging the NFL and owners to ban players who knelt during the national anthem lack foresight as he himself intertwines sports and politics. The issue remains a potential chance to win a political event, and there are very few instances where Trump does not believe he leaves arguments as the winner.
Fabian’s most interesting point about Trump is whether or not many of Trump’s actions and his craval for approval are again impulsive or calculated responses. “He likes to exaggerate and make a salesman’s pitch” in almost everything he does, and he’s not the first president to do so either. Many presidents were lawyers before their time in office, many were politicians, and Ronald Reagan was a former Hollywood actor. Each person has a different style of self-representation and leadership. What separates former presidents from Trump, in my opinion, is their ability to judge decisions – to know when to stifle their “impulsive[ness]” and act in a more “calculated” nature. Every lawyer knows whether or not they can win a case before they start. Some actors intentionally stay away from certain genres because it’s not their forte. Trump takes on, or at least tries to, the role of a renaissance businessman with a knack for consistent exaggeration. Good businessmen are good public speakers, and while Trump might not be a strong public speaker in the same way Obama was, he certainly knows how to smooth talk certain situations with hyperbole and misdirection – “a salesman’s pitch.”