COUNTERPOINT: ESPN should stick to sports | Opinion

Try as one may, there is seemingly no way to fully escape the grasp of politics.

And it’s understandable, especially with the election season of 2016 still fresh in our minds.

There are also continuous implications and developments in the other levels of government, or the daily circus of the White House. However, one must also note there is a time and a place for everything.

The voice of politics is reaching a deafening howl. Once limited to newspapers, cable news and digital sources, politics’ access to people’s lives has increased drastically. Whether it be from your uncle’s political ramble on Facebook to your favorite comedian’s tweet, the barrier separating politics from everyday public life is dissolving. Anything, and everything, even sports, has become a political matter.

ESPN, however, should not be political. The network is about sports, not politics.

There are a plethora of reasons for this case. At the forefront lies the factors that more political knowledge does not necessarily yield better political communication. Rather, sports are a tool for bridging groups of people and a means for escapism.

The degradation of all subjects into political matters has been to the detriment of our nation. Although organizations such as ESPN may be doing so in an altruistic nature, like raising the political awareness of the general public, they are ignoring key factors that make political communication effective.

At the same time, they are not facilitating the proper environment for these conversations to be successful. We’re seeing this disconnect between effective political discourse and sports recently with the controversy between Donald Trump and the NFL and Golden State Warriors.

For example, the coverage of the topic of kneeling during the national anthem at sporting events. Whether this act is acceptable, ESPN has devoted a significant amount of time on the matter. Rather than allotting more space for sports, the reason why audiences tune into the network, they prioritized the click-bait nature of politics. Just looking at the breathless coverage following the President’s statement four stories were published within an eight-hour time frame. 

Although this may have helped catalyze a further discussion on the issue, it did nothing to help prompt productive conversations.

Ultimately, they are only providing the public with a spattering of talking points or soundbites.

Still, some may feel a change in political culture and knowledge is better than the status quo. However, they are still missing the utility sports offer to bridge communities that would otherwise be dissimilar. Although divided among team lines, sports have brought groups together for the love of the game and have provided an opportunity for strangers to talk and relate amongst each other.

Here the skeptic might say, “Perfect, then why not include politics?” However, as stated earlier, political discourse requires a certain amount of maturity to be productive. Otherwise, discussions can quickly turn to debates as parties struggle with adequately voicing their views.

At the same time, recognition of the political ideologies of reporters would lead to innate biases against them during future reporting.

One must also consider that sports are also used as a means of escapism. They provide a way for viewers to briefly escape their problems and shortcomings and be a part of a winning team. Just as with any other matter of society, it would be unfair to rip away this nature of sports and instead submit them to the volatile nature of politics.

Nonetheless, it may be the intent of the politicization of sports to bring in people who would otherwise choose to avoid political issues. While this rationale may be just, the fact holds that it would be unfair to force someone to become a part of the political world if they chose not to be. One must also not forget that incessant calls to join political matters might lead to further dissuasion to do so.

There is also the case of reciprocity to be examined in this argument. If reporters were solely covering progressive or conservative matters, audiences of the opposing ideology would quickly become fed up. If the network attempts to cover both sides, frustration would still surface among both sides. Essentially, no one would benefit much as opposed to reviewing more complex, in-depth political sources.

As the world is today, politics already have a sufficient grasp on society. There is no need for its influence to spread further into the realm of sports. Although the efforts may have virtuous intentions, the ends are not as clear cut or productive as they may initially seem.

Randy Thomas is a junior political science and communications studies double major. Reach him at [email protected] or via @DNOpinion.