Politicizing sports -- it’s not just for ESPN anymore! No longer seeing sports as a respite from politics, the New York Times has joined the game of pestering and trying to pin down athletes suspected of secret anti-Trump tendencies, while celebrating supporters of illegal immigrants and Black Lives Matter protests.
Golf reporter Karen Crouse made the front of Friday’s Sports with the slightly judgmental “Tee Time With Trump? Pro Golfers Say Sure.”
Ernie Els, known as the Big Easy, created a little strife on social media this month by playing golf with President Trump and Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, at Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Fla.
As the PGA Tour moves this week to PGA National Resort and Spa, a six-mile drive from Trump National, it was natural to wonder: How many of Els’s peers on the tour, if extended the same invitation, would say yes?
Was it really “natural to wonder”? Only if you’re a politicized sports reporter.
At Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles last week, I asked more than one-third of the Genesis Open field that question, granting the respondents anonymity so they wouldn’t risk the wrath of their Twitter followers or, in the case of at least one pro, the fury of his wife. The players range in age from the early 20s to late 40s. They represent nine countries and make their homes in 14 American states, including four that voted overwhelmingly Democratic in last year’s presidential election.
Crouse used the results to take another poke at those rich white men who play the sport she covers for a living.
Of the 56 players polled, 50 -- or 89.3 percent -- said they would play golf with Trump if asked. Only three said they would not. The remaining three declined to answer.
The results were hardly surprising. The clubhouses at PGA Tour stops have long trended Republican, and the sport’s target demographic -- rich, mostly white men -- is far different from the women, minorities, immigrants and Muslims who have at times been the most offended by the president’s statements and positions.
Long before he was elected the country’s 45th president, Trump participated in tournament pro-ams on the men’s and women’s tours and made the game an integral part of his lifestyle and his businesses. His presidency, at least so far, has been no different. But the current political climate is forcing many high-profile people who sometimes enter the White House’s orbit -- celebrities, N.F.L. players, even college basketball stars -- to seriously consider the personal and public repercussions of accepting an invitation to engage with the president.
Crouse caused controversy in April 2012 when she told a golf magazine she did not want to cover the Augusta National Masters tournament until a woman was admitted to the club. Her editor Joe Sexton said her comments were "completely inappropriate.”
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Another sportswriter, Juliet Macur, recently criticized Tom Brady for his relationship with Donald Trump after the Patriot’s stirring comeback Super Bowl win in “A Star Attracts, Repels and Wins.”
Marvel at him. Or don’t. With Brady, as with many American sports heroes who broke records and starred in dynasties, there is sometimes a blemish that goes with the brilliance. Like some of the best athletes ever -- Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong, Pete Rose and Barry Bonds -- Brady isn’t just a great athlete. Like all of them, he is a human being, with flaws.
To the Times Sports page, one “flaw” is evidently supporting a Republican for president.
He didn’t have to set a red “Make America Great Again” cap in his locker in September 2015, in blue-state Massachusetts, near the beginning of a campaign that would divide the country, and then act surprised when some people got upset. He didn’t have to duck legitimate questions about his relationship with Donald J. Trump with cringe-worthy answers and amateurish dodges.
In the February 19 Sunday Magazine, Jay Caspian Kang asked “Should Athletes Stick to Sports?” Kang argued no, but his view of appropriate political statements by athletes was skewed leftward.
....During this year’s prime-time media day, usually a hollow parading of the players before the microphones and cameras, Tom Brady’s continued refusal to talk about his presidential friend was big news. Brady had been ignoring these questions for almost a year and a half now, ever since reporters saw a red “Make America Great Again” hat in his locker, but he finally gave in. All he could muster was: “What’s going on in the world? I haven’t paid much attention. I’m just a positive person.”
Some politics are superior to others. Kang praised the “thoughtful political expression” in favor of the virulently anti-cop Black Lives Matter movement by the WNBA.
Brady’s ham-handed elisions were hardly surprising -- he, perhaps more than any athlete since Tiger Woods, has doggedly confronted us with his right to never publicly say anything interesting to anyone.... And as players continue to be asked about their political beliefs by reporters -- especially as the international players in basketball and baseball are prompted to talk about immigration -- they have an opportunity to give voice to resistance. If they want a model, they should look toward the W.N.B.A., whose players have been exemplifying thoughtful political expression. Last summer, the W.N.B.A. fined several players for wearing black T-shirts in support of Black Lives Matter at pregame practices; following the next game after the fine was announced, some players refused to discuss basketball, instead using the postgame news conference to talk about police shootings. (The W.N.B.A. rescinded the fines soon after.) Last month, Breanna Stewart, the league’s reigning Rookie of the Year, attended the airport protest at LAX.