There were two premises to my Sunday Tulsa World column:
1 – Athletes and coaches should be expected to think outside their professions, as we all do, and have as much of a right to express themselves on current events as the rest of us.
2 – Those who respond to athletes’ and coaches’ expression by instructing them to “stick to sports” are being lazy and small-minded. It’s a disrespectful way of saying, “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
The column had political elements, since Curtis Bolton’s tweet that prompted me to write criticized Donald Trump, but was not a political statement. I was careful to include Mike Leach’s right to endorse Trump, something Leach did in 2016 to the chagrin of the “stick to sports” crowd.
I did not scold those who disagreed with Bolton, but rather applauded them… provided they respected his right to an opinion. It’s what civil discourse is all about.
I expected several readers to miss these points, and many did. But I was also pleased to see just as many respond positively.
Now, in the spirit of discourse, let me respond to some of you who reached out reasonably after the column went live...
Tweet from @KBNuck: “If one of them (athletes) makes a valid, FACT based statement, I’ll listen. If they just spew out some emotion based comment, I’ll call them out on it.”
Opinions like the one Bolton tweeted are often emotional. He shouldn’t be condemned for that.
Tweet from @schoonerdoc: “Bolton, Leach and LeBron James have the same 1st Admendment (rights) as every American and are much smarter than most of the people criticizing them.”
This much I know -- they are more thoughtful than those who respond with “stick to sports.”
Tweet from @BSooner72: “It just seems that when they choose this option… that an opportunity to damage their brand increases.”
Speaking out socially or politically can affect sports figures’ brands, sure. That’s why I respect those who do so anyway. Meantime, why should we worry about those choices?
Email passage from John: “Because of his celebrity, (critics) perceive Bolton as more powerful and getting more attention than they themselves could ever hope for.”
The “stick to sports” mobsters on social media are more bitter than jealous. Those with a larger platform/audience who call out athletes/coaches for their opinions? They’re either threatened by the opinion, or seizing an opportunity to barge into the narrative so as to get a piece of the action. In that sense, they could be perceived as jealous.
Email passage from Jim: “The United States has become a place where professional athletes are mistaken for people of importance. I’ve needed a doctor. I’ve needed a teacher. I need farmers every day. I’ve needed an auto mechanic, a plumber, a house painter, and a lot of other everyday people. But I have never, not once, needed a pro athlete, a media personality for anything. Yes, they all have the right to their opinions, but they don’t need to be reported as gospel.”
The point of the column wasn’t to deify athletes, but to promote their rights for expression, and to shut down those so quick to shut them down with “stick to sports.”
Tweet from @Genius11B: “Way to insult half the country who are tired of hearing athletes’ BS opinions who have no clue about real life.”
I present to you Exhibit A of our problem here. We’re so divided (“half the country”) that attempts at reason or understanding disappear into an abyss of intolerance. And that goes for both halves.
Tweet from @miltonthe4th: “The division is real. No matter what you say on any social media platform someone will drag you.”
“Stick to sports” warriors don’t drag their targets, they cheapen the discussion. Though the point of the tweet is taken.
Tweet from @soonerbaok: “He was spitting out CNN and Democratic talking points, several of which were untrue. So he can talk about whatever he wants or any other athlete can, BUT use truths and facts.”
Bolton’s tweet about $4 billion going toward Trump’s border wall appeared above one of Trump’s own tweets. It read: “Breaking News: The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals just reversed a lower court decision & gave us the go ahead to build one of the largest sections of the desperately needed Southern Border Wall, Four Billion Dollars.”
Email passage from Wally: “Civil discourse is a rare commodity these days... especially in social media.”
The only time I log onto Facebook is to post a column link, and that’s on a Tulsa World page separate from my personal one. I’m on Twitter more often, but not nearly as often than I used to be. I don’t tweet nearly as often I once did because Wally is right. He put it lightly, in fact. Social media doesn’t just tend to be uncivil. It gets plain nasty way too often.
Tweet from @Mkeegs79: “The only case that pissed me off with an athlete is LeBron defending China on Hong Kong.”
It bothered me, too, but that doesn’t change James’ right to an opinion.
Tweet from @brian118127621: “Athletes... have an inherently shallower depth of experience from which their views are shaped; hence the disconnect from the average person.”
How do you know their depth is shallower? Sounds dangerously stereotypical.
Tweet from @Ccoolcraft: “So would (Bolton) be more enlightened if he waved a Trump flag or wore a MAGA hat? I bet you wouldn’t have written this if so.”
True story – I originally used Tom Brady having a MAGA hat in his locker as an example of more conservative-thinking sports figures having the same rights as Bolton or James. I switched to Leach because he actually spoke on Trump’s behalf at a campaign rally.
Tweet from @ChrisBenge7: “Stick to sports is not code for ignorance. It is saying please allow a place for refuge from politics.”
By this logic, no athlete or coach should ever express themselves on matters beyond sports because it inconveniences their fans. See what I mean about small-minded?
Tweet from @nana_yaw84: “Find another place for refuge. Why should your desire to escape the real world impose on his freedom of speech?”
Tweet from @corneliusrneal: “Run, jump, catch and tackle, like they never stepped foot inside a classroom or out in the real world, where they can have these experiences. I guess Mr. Bolton isn’t allowed to be a human being if it doesn’t suit you.”
Email passage from James: “I know everybody has an opinion and a right to express it, but save these type of articles for the Op-Ed page, not SPORTS.”
I believe sports offers an important, underutilized prism through which we can see the world and even affect change in it. There’s more to it than fun and games.
Tweet from @jonathan_dadof2: “I agree they have a right to speak out… But when you use your platform knowing that millions will see, this is the problem I believe many have with it.”
Wouldn’t you speak out if you had that kind of platform?
Tweet from @TU_BLA: “I actually believe they should use the platform to express those opinions since more people will dismiss a random opinion (such as yours or mine) fairly easily with ‘and who are you?’”
Tweet from @TyelerBurress: “They want to talk politics, become a politician.”
Hey Tyeler, remind me to show you your tweet the next time you talk politics.
Tweet from @PlainTalkGOP: “(Bolton’s) sage wisdom is a guiding light for all of the uninformed and unwoke like myself. I was so foolish before.”
This bit of sarcasm is cute, but it also misses the point entirely. I didn’t write the column to espouse Bolton’s opinion, but to recognize his right to it. I wrote it to call out the “stick to sports” crowd so sadly predictable to respond, regardless of the sports figure’s politics. If you can’t see that, it’s because you don’t want to, not because you’re unable to.
Tweet from @insurancelaw01: “This is a double-edge sword. People ruin football sites with politics. Detractors only tell them to ‘be quiet’ on personal sites when they disagree.”
Agree on the second point. If by “football sites” you mean message boards, I believe most have rules that ask posters to limit political talk. I suppose teams/schools could tell their players and coaches to pipe down on Twitter, but unless that occurs it should be an open forum.
Email passage from Michael: “As a citizen (Bolton) can say what he wants. But what is there about his education and world view that compels a professional journalist to amplify it?”
You had me, then you lost me. I amplified it only as a jumping-off point to the negligence of the "stick to sports" mob.
Tweet from @ryanfife: “Crazy how some people forget that anyone here in America can say whatever the hell they want to and it literally does not affect them in any way and then they get upset about it. Athlete or not.”
Tweet from @klewieblu: “Many of the stick to sports clowns have never dared to achieve what educated student athletes did and would fold like a pair of 2s if they (did) the work that was involved.”
Let’s not make this athletes vs. spectators. That does our situation no good.
Email passage from Owen: “I play a regular golf game with 12-15 guys. All good citizens. But one of their ‘rules’ is no talk of politics or religion out of some foolish fear that such discussion will ruin friendships. If our society keeps going down this path then we’ll all soon be wearing drab olive uniforms and marching in lockstep. I believe there just may be a God or a ‘higher being.’ And I believe that we are given brains for a reason. I appreciate your efforts to stimulate mine.”
A good one to end on.