Turn on the television any given night, and you’re likely to see late night host Jimmy Kimmel bloviating like a public healthcare expert, unemployed NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick pretending to be a professor of criminal justice, or perhaps even crooner Stevie Wonder warning us about the dangers of global warming. Instead of finding entertainment where once you expected it to be, we now find ourselves on the mean streets of 21st Century political discourse.
If National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell is wondering why ratings for the sport that pays him millions are falling, or Warner Bros. executives struggling to understand why movie-goers are on the decline, look no further. Where sporting events or the Oscars used to offer a few hours in which to forget about controversy and simply be entertained, we now are treated as captive audiences to a constant parade of celebrity political manifestos. Celebrities wail that they have a duty and a right to use their high paid posts to effect political change; and the hubris to think that their audiences should actually care.
In no rational universe is the ability to throw an air-filled pigskin sack 60-yards down a field a sign of any greater understanding of public policy or political philosophy, than someone who never laced up a pair of cleats in his life; nor does hosting a late night talk show lend credibility to one’s personal political views. Having a broad public podium, and having a broad knowledge of issues, are two entirely different things.
In fact, when actually pressed on workable solutions for the very issue over which he was making such a stink, all Kaepernick had to offer were robotic soundbites. The shallowness of his “cause” was revealed clearly by the fact that he did not even vote in the 2016 election. All Kaepernick craved was an opportunity for attention, not for leadership. His “heroic” protest amounted to nothing more intellectually cogent than that of a petulant teenager barking on social media about complex issues far beyond his or her pubescent grasp; just on a bigger, more publicized scale.
It is not as if other sports stars and organizations are doing anything more. For example, have the Pittsburgh Steelers endorsed the GOP-sponsored legislation for criminal justice reform, which would have a historic and positive impact on minority communities ravaged by decades of drugs and violence? Has the Seattle Seahawks organization begun working with Washington state legislators on reforming civil asset forfeiture laws, which disproportionally affects minorities, and are ranked among some of the worst in the nation?
No, of course not. And why should they? Fans keep paying exorbitant ticket prices, advertisers continue to pay millions for a 30- or 60-second spot, the athletes rake in millions of dollars to catch balls, and team owners laugh all the way to the bank.
Many of these overpaid prima donnas never graduated college; some did not attend in the first place. So, why should we expect someone who scored a 12 out of 50 on the Wonderlic Test (the NFL’s version of the SAT) to have a rational, well-considered opinion on civil asset forfeiture, criminal justice reform, or the complex legalities behind the use of lethal force by police? On the other side of the equation, why should they expect us to believe they are more deserving of our attention on politics than, say, a stranger on the street? Because they may appear on our Fantasy Football roster?
We should all want and hope that professional athletes will be role models when it comes to exhibiting good sportsmanship on the field, being charitable with their enormous salaries, and abstaining from criminal behavior. This is all a part of being a good citizen.
But it is our deification and idolatry of these “Golden Gods” of sports that make them appear more than they are and lends to the illusion that somehow, as fans, we are supposed to give a hoot what they think on or off the field, rather than what they do on it. Frankly, if this latest uproar over whether a player or coach kneels during the national anthem or holds hands with his locker buddy, leads to serious questioning about our long-held deification of sports figures, then there is something positive to come from this.
As Mona Charen noted in a column last week quoting Calvin Coolidge, politicians “live in an artificial atmosphere of adulation, which sooner or later impairs their judgment.” On the gridiron, that benchmark has long been passed.