Originally published in The Fordham Ram on February 14, 2017.
The phrase “stick to sports” is a favorite of egg accounts on Twitter who would like their athletes and sportswriters less #woke, thank you very much.
Its origin, at least how I remember it, was more innocuous. Sportswriters in particular would get hit with a “stick to sports” just for saying what type of music they like (if it’s a baseball writer, it’s Bruce Springsteen. This is a scientific fact).
As the intersectionality between sports and pop culture grew with the likes of Grantland and social media in general, pop culture takes from sportswriters became less of an issue and more of a requisite. For example, Rodger Sherman covers mainly football for The Ringer, but also writes about “The Bachelor” weekly. He used to do the same thing for SB Nation, but now both of those roles have gone to Charlotte Wilder. She also hosts “First Impressions” on Facebook Live, which is touted as “A very analytical sports show about a very analytical sports show.” And with all of that, getting told to “stick to sports” because of your music tastes or what you’re currently watching on Netflix has all but disappeared.
So, what happens when there is a growing intersectionality between politics and pop culture, i.e. our current Reality-TV-Host-in-Chief? Naturally, sportswriters use social media to share their beliefs. If they aren’t shy about atrocious puns, they won’t be shy about tweeting smack about the most absurd and dangerous president in history.
The question is: should they? And the answer is: yes.
Look at it this way: this past Sunday, I attended Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer’s “State of the Borough” address and the accompanying “Activist Fair” for a class assignment. I talked to various leaders of activist organization, and heard more than once that people are joining their causes at larger and faster rates than ever before. According to Brewer, there has been a 35 percent increase in application to local community boards following the election of Trump.
It’s often forgotten, but sportswriters are people with opinions as well. So, it can stand to reason if a large portion of the general populace is being pushed to speak out for the first time in their lives, that sportswriters would do the same.
Sports writing is, inherently, a kind of “fake news.” Not in the same vein that He Who Must Learn How to Shake Hands uses it, but in the sense that, at the end of the day, sports don’t particularly matter a whole lot. It’s a somewhat more refined, or at least more well-regarded, form of entertainment news. When you boil it down, an article about Kim Kardashian’s night and one about how the Knicks continue to mess everything up aren’t entirely different in their worldly magnitude.
As an (alleged) sportswriter, the reality that my desired profession technically falls under the same broad umbrella as the work done by people like David Farenthold at The Washington Post or Matt Pearce for The LA Times or any other journalist truly doing their part as the Fourth Estate is somewhat baffling.
I’m taking a “real-life” journalism course for my first time right now, which is how I ended up at a “State of the Borough” speech. And I’ll be honest, it made me feel pretty bad about what I usually write. I generally fill my space with sentences like “Julio Jones really did try to murder me” or “It’s because he’s fat, people.” Meanwhile, there are real journalists covering immigrants unsure if they’re going to see family again, either because they have family members being blocked from reentry or the threat of deportation hanging over their heads.
If I, an overly invested (yet marginally talented) sportswriter am having these misgivings, I think it’s fair enough to assume that these successful and actually good sportswriters are as well. In this incredibly unstable and volatile political climate, it’s unfair to expect people to remain silent on these topics. What’s interesting about more and more sportswriters dipping into political commentary on Twitter and the like is that people are starting to realize that their favorite sportswriters are actually well-rounded, intelligent people.
President Cheeto’s travel ban was the tipping point in the death of “stick to sports.” When a gross miscarriage of justice from the highest office in the land happens and directly impacts thousands of people, sportswriters stop just being sportswriters and become people too. And we’re better off that way.