Sunday, November 9, 2008


Months before the Summer Olympics took place; there were questions and concerns about athletes making political statements in the face of the host nation, China. Considering the human rights record of the world’s most populous country and its strained diplomatic relationship with some of the Western powers, the ongoing debate about athletes and their political interest (or lack of it) began a new chapter.

Thursday night, another page was written; this time, closer to home in Cleveland.

There were about seventeen people in the country who watched the Denver Broncos spoil Brady Quinn’s first start for the Browns. They also watched emerging wide receiver Brandon Marshall attempt a touchdown celebration paying homage to Tuesday’s historic election with a salute similar to that John Carlos and Tommie Smith at the 1968 Olympics.

From his post-game interview on the NFL Network:

“In my own way, I wanted to pay respect to our nation and the progress we’ve made. So I got a white glove and painted it black, half and half. It’s not about black power, it’s not about black and white, it’s about U.S.A., red white and blue.”

Brandon Stokley, his teammate, put the kibosh on the Marshall plan as you heard, realizing that in the context of the game, avoiding a fifteen yard penalty was far more important than recognizing the 44th President of the United States. Yet, it appears that Marshall did not avoid the wrath of some fans and media.

Jim Armstrong of the Denver Post wrote:

“And the most troubling part of all was that, afterward, Marshall said he wasn't concerned about being fined. Excuse me? Where was his concern for his team? A 15-yard penalty in that situation could have given the Browns great field position after the ensuing kickoff.”
A few days after commenters on Shutdown Corner went to town on Marshall, blogger Chris Chase takes a quick (and somewhat inappropriate) shot in his brief statement about the Chiefs – Chargers game:

“If San Diego's able to get the win at home, they remain just one game back of Denver (and speaking of Denver, I'm not sure where else to put this, but I hope John Carlos and Tommie Smith find Brandon Marshall and fire a staple gun into his nipples).”
Yet on The Fifth Down, the New York Times football blog, Andrew Das asked the appropriate question: do sports and politics mix? Das referenced a recent article from Bill Rhoden where the venerable scribe talked about the Obama’s election as being the Joe Louis moment of the early 21st century and the celebration that ensued in Harlem (which was incredible to hear, let alone see).

So in front of a sizable national audience with instant worldwide media and playoff implications hovering over Cleveland Browns Stadium, the third-year wideout gave it a shot.

There are plenty of reasons to continue to rail on Marshall for his attempt and each goes back to the ‘shut up and just play’ premise that many in American society hold on to with professional athletes. Many feel that based on the amount of money that they pay (which is debatable in itself when you dig deep) and the time spent in consuming sports, the athlete is to not just perform, but smile and keep any non-sports thoughts to his or herself.

Yet, no matter how much money is involved with publicly-viewed sports, the participants aren’t exactly robots. These folks are human beings who have the capability to think about something other than their professions. Most do stay away from talking about Republicans, Democrats and Independents out of fear of ticking off the wrong people or risking potential off-field endorsement opportunities. However, there are countless examples that show that athletes do have an opinion on what goes on in their planet, country, state or town. Some may wait until they are far removed from their playing days to reflect their political stances; two having played Tuesday’s election game in Sacramento and Tallahassee to mixed results. Some have tried their hardest to make the issues known while they are in the spotlight as an active player.

Though many believe that politics and pigskin (or other games) may not mix, the union has always and will continue to exist so long as we have disagreements on how a government should be run with our tax dollars. The gladiators during the Roman Empire weren’t just instruments of entertainment for the masses, after all.

It’s even harder, if one wanted to, to extract the political game from the sporting events. From the NBA encouraging teams and players to get out the vote to baseball’s famous antitrust exemption to the NFL’s participation in a Political Action Committee, these leagues view their political involvement as insurance for favorable legislation for television rights, stadium financing and performance-enhancing policies.

What Das did not get into on The Fifth Down was that Rhoden has always looked for individual athletes to make more than statements on the field; in fact, his book, Forty Million Dollar Slaves, is essentially a plea for sports figures to do as such. Could Obama’s election spur a rebirth of political activism in sports? Could the current global recession – which undoubtedly affects sports consumption – and the tarnished image of the United States compel more athletes to stand up and be heard?

Will anything really change?

No matter the reasons and feelings; either anger, elation or disappointment; towards Marshall’s attempt, we just don’t know.

While writing this, the Indianapolis Colts - Pittsburgh Steelers tilt is on the television screen. CBS play-by-play announcer Jim Nantz tells the audience about how much regard that Colts head coach and former Steelers defensive back Tony Dungy has for the Rooney family. Dungy discussed how the patriarchs used to remind their players that they were not just the Steelers, but the Pittsburgh Steelers; that they represented the community at large. Dungy would incorporate this philosophy in his stints with Tampa Bay and now in Indianapolis.

In this philosophy, representing a geographic community means representing the demographics of an area, which includes their overall political values and differences. If you subscribe to that theory, maybe Marshall was representing how the state of Colorado turned blue; but not like a can of Coors Light getting cold.

Say What?!?!: It's been quite a while since adding one of these anecdotes, but can someone answer this question: why in the world did FOX not switch over to another game after the Jets were up 40-0 in the first half of their scrimmage game against the St. Louis Rams? Even Fireman Ed was ready to watch the Packers and Vikings after the first quarter.

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