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Sports and Politics, 2019


Pretty pathetic all around. First:

The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee Tuesday formally reprimanded but did not suspend or otherwise punish the two U.S. athletes who protested on the medal stand earlier this month at the Pan American Games.

In letters to fencer Race Imboden and hammer thrower Gwen Berry, USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland said that while she “applaud(ed)” each athlete’s “decision to be an active citizen,” calling it “admirable,” she noted that they must “abide by the policies we agree to in order to ensure the Games succeed in their purpose for many years to come.”

She wrote that the two athletes were considered to be in “a probationary period for the next 12 months. This means you could face more serious sanctions for any additional breach of our code of conduct than might otherwise be levied for an athlete in good standing.”

The letters, obtained by USA TODAY Sports, were most notable for what they did not do: prohibit either athlete from any competitions, practices or similar activities, now or in the future.

In a nod of respect to the wave of athlete protests that have swept the nation during Donald Trump’s presidency, Hirshland wrote that she plans to work with the International Olympic Committee and International Paralympic Committee as well as athletes themselves to “more clearly define for Team USA athletes what a breach of these rules will mean in the future.”

The next Summer Olympic Games will be held in 11 months in Tokyo, in the midst of the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

At the recent Pan American Games in Lima, Peru, Imboden took a knee on the medal stand during the playing of the U.S. national anthem, later citing his concerns over racism, gun control, the mistreatment of immigrants and President Trump as the reasons he protested.

Hammer thrower Gwen Berry raised a fist a day later on the medal stand near the end of the anthem, calling out injustice in America “and a president who’s making it worse.”

And then there’s Major League Soccer:

One of the league’s most fan-friendly markets was the site of the first of the recent incidents of anti-politics policing. At Atlanta United’s August 11 match against NYCFC, nine members of the Resurgence supporters group were ejected from the stadium due to their anti-gun violence and anti-fascism signs.

Along with their ejections, some of the fans also received two-year bans from the stadium. Another segment of the ejected supporters were given a three-match ban, with the potential to get ticketing rights reinstated if, according to Dirty South Soccer, they pay $250 for a four-hour “fan class” and write a letter of apology.

The following week, Seattle Sounders fan Shawn Wheeler, the co-president of Sounders fan group Emerald City Supporters, said he was ejected from the LA Galaxy’s stadium for a sign protesting fascism and racism.

It’s a depressing commentary on our current national moment that signs stating opposition to gun violence, fascism, and racism are deemed “political”—scare quotes because whenever someone decries something for being “political” they rarely mean it literally, since anything and everything can be political. More often, “political” actually means “potentially controversial in a way I and/or my customers might dislike”—rather than plain common sense. It is good, though, to have on record that MLS itself wishes to court “both sides” of these so-called political issues, both normal people and avowed white supremacists alike, and cram them all into one big stadium together hoping no one brings up the fact that one “side” wishes members of the other never existed.

That last paragraph says it all well. These sports league people are defining politics as “anything that might get us an e-mail from a redneck in South Carolina.” Nazis, regular people who think racism sucks–the same thing! Both sides do it! Once again, our institutions are more than happy to cave to the likes of Donald Trump.

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