Sports are, at a baseline, the ultimate meritocracy. There’s a winner and a loser, and the outcome is seldom in question -- a rarity in a world that’s mostly gray. And yet, sports have never been wholly separated from politics, from race, from gender, from business, from society. Sports are, and always have been, a microcosm of where we find ourselves as a country -- perhaps as a world.
As with any other form of entertainment, the ability to think of sports outside of our society has been a privilege of those who, until now, haven’t been affected by their consequences.
Tell Jesse Owens he should’ve “stuck to sports” when his four gold medals and record-setting performance in the 1936 Berlin Olympics directly flew in the face of Adolf Hitler’s plan to use the Games as a showcase for supposed Aryan superiority.
Tell that to Jackie Robinson or Muhammad Ali or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, or to Billie Jean King or Venus Williams, who, in different eras, fought for the same level of pay equality for men and women.
Tell that to black players, Irish players, Italian players, female players, all of whom have fought over decades and centuries for the right to merely exist as athletes, to contribute highly sought-after skills that have long transcended artificial barriers.
When you really think about it, the division between sports and politics has been long eroded. The separation is what takes effort to uphold -- and it’s mostly done by people whose right to exist in this space isn’t questioned.
Many of us have loved sports even when the feeling wasn’t mutual. Even when the communities surrounding these beautiful games were decidedly exclusionary, even when they told us we didn’t belong.
But the ability of sports to unite along political lines, racial lines, gender lines, religious lines, class line -- that has always been there. We were all Yankees after 9/11, and we were all #BostonStrong after the marathon bombing. Sports’ potential to unite has always been there, and so has the ability to recognize when all of these seemingly disparate worlds intersect.
Sports can be a barometer for the movements we must make through existential crises. Sports don’t just exist for sports’ sake -- sports can be art.
But that’s what has always made sports so compelling -- as art, as spectacle and, yes, as politics. Sports can reflect the best, and at times the worst, of our collective humanity, and it allows us to experience both ends of the spectrum while studying the fine line that separates the two.
Megan Huston is the sports editor at The Meteor. She can be reached at 936-348-3505 or firstname.lastname@example.org.