If you are a professional athlete in the United States these days, your life is scrutinized by more than just your performance on the field. People want to know a lot more about you, who you are dating, what type of car you drive, your house and where you live, your taste in foods and so on. There is no end to the endless personal questions that a pro athlete will face in his or her career. Some people also want to know what your stance is on certain political/social issues that are facing the country. For instance, a few athletes have been questioned in the past few years about their views on gay marriage. Most athletes are willing to shed some light into what their preferences are concerning some light issues such as their taste in women, food, cars, but stick a microphone in front of their face and ask them what their opinions are regarding politics or certain social issues, and their responses usually consist of a blank stare or a no comment. The typical reply is usually “What does this question have to do with the game or my performance on the field?”.
About a month ago, the Minnesota Twins held a press conference to introduce one of their offseason free agent signings, Tori Hunter. During the press conference, the usually questions were thrown at Hunter like “how do you feel about coming back to Minnesota?” and “how can you contribute to next year’s team?” Out of nowhere, a reporter asked Hunter about his comments a few years ago about gay marriage. He had stated that he believed strongly in traditional marriage during an interview with a news publication. Unfortunately, having that view now and publicly stating it is not viewed as being politically correct. The reporter who asked the question obviously had an axe to grind with Hunter by bringing it up. Hunter wisely bypassed the question and even mocked the idiot reporter who was asking the question. This is a classic example of what many athletes have to go through these days. The media loves to stir up controversy and pro athletes are among the celebrities who are often targeted. One politically incorrect statement by an athlete could ruin their career or cost them millions in endorsement money.
I personally don’t have a real problem with an athlete speaking up about politics such as endorsing a certain candidate for office. I find it very refreshing to see some athlete articulate what he or she believes about public policy and their views. It shows that they care more about life than just shooting a basketball or throwing a football. In some ways, a pro athlete’s outspoken views usually get more young people thinking about politics which can be a good thing. Younger people tend to idolize pro athletes and watch carefully what they say and do. If someone like LeBron James starts being outspoken against our out of control debt problem in this country, I can guarantee you that this will be a hot topic on Twitter and Facebook. Now if someone like Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity talks about the same problem, the same effect will be gone. How many teenagers even listen to those guys?
Many pro athletes are more outspoken about social issues. Some high-profile athletes such as James and Kobe Bryant have been wearing those “I can’t breathe” tee shirts during warm ups to voice their support to the family of Eric Garner. A few NFL players have come out onto the field with their hands up in support of Michael Brown. While those athletes certainly have a right to express their views on those issues, not every athlete on their team or the league supports their position and that is where stances on social issues can be tricky and potentially harmful. Those issues tend to be very divisive and an athlete has to be extremely careful about being too outspoken. As a fan of professional sports, I have been very turned off by the outspoken behavior of a few professional athletes in recent years. Almost to point of losing my support for the entire team and the league. Some of these athletes like to pick and choice what they will be outspoken about. If some athlete came out during warm ups with a NYPD tee-shirt, I would drop out of my seat in disbelief!! A player who is very outspoken about a certain issue can create a huge division in the locker room and become a huge distraction. No team needs that. Fans can be very put off as well.
If I were a professional athlete, any interview that I would give would pertain to what I was doing on the field or court, nothing else. I would not stoke the fire of media by saying something that is totally politically incorrect and thus creating a huge controversy. I would owe it to my teammates to avoid any distractions or divisions inside the locker room. If you want my opinion about some hot button issue, wait until I retire then I will give you my opinion. Why would anyone want to risk losing millions of dollars and potentially their career over one little slip of the tongue? Some things are simply better left unsaid. Unfortunately, in this day and age of social media, pro athletes are expected to speak out for or against certain social issues. If their answer does not conform to what the media wants to hear, they get ravaged! Besides, who really cares about what a certain athlete has to say? I am sure a few people do, but the vast majority of people could care less! Those who speak out are just as uninformed or informed as many ordinary people are. A majority could probably not even articulate why they support or do not support an issue. They get paid to play a game, not give us some social commentary!!