Sports Page Becomes Op-Ed Section in Wake of Missouri Football Protests

AP Photo/Jeff Roberson
AP Photo/Jeff Roberson

Sports bore some sports writers.

They advertise their professional discontent by turning the sports page into the op-ed section. An underachieving college football team in Columbia, Missouri, this week awarded failed Grantland Rices the opportunity to become third-rate Mary McGrorys. This, rather than any imaginary civil-rights triumph achieved in forcing the resignation of a university president, compels scribes to scribble love letters to a football team on a four-game losing streak.

The two-day boycott of team activities by a 4-5 squad, rather than Ohio State’s continued supremacy despite a quarterback carousel or Oklahoma State, Clemson, and Iowa defeating pundits along with all comers, plays as the story of the season. Journalists are grateful—that they don’t have to write about sports.

“If we can all agree with Dr. King’s ‘injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,’ it isn’t difficult to side with Concerned Student 1950, the Missouri activist group that spearheaded the hierarchal change on campus,” Jeff Jacobs gushes at the Hartford Courant. “This never would have happened so quickly without the football team,” he says of the vanquishers of the mighty Southeast Missouri State Redhawks. “Never.”

“The reports of racial episodes are disturbing,” concedes the New York Times’ William Rhoden, seemingly appreciative of the occurrences nonetheless for the moral posturing they allow. “But the players’ protest is exhilarating because it is the most high-profile example to date in a continuing revolution in which the athletes who drive the multibillion-dollar college sports machine have begun to use their visibility to demand change.”

“Role models and leaders stand up and fight for justice and why should we expect any less from college football players?” asks the Orlando Sentinel‘s Matt Murschel. “We should be commending them, not condemning them like so many people have done in the comments sections of articles and on social media sites. Commentary suggesting players are acting as though they’re entitled or the protest is an effort to deflect criticism for a poor season are wrong. These students are asking for basic human rights, not free meals.”

Two corruptions showed themselves in Columbia. Students tasked with competing in football decided to protest rather than play and journalists assigned to cover sports again betrayed an obsession for politics. Call the latter phenomenon the Columbia (Missouri) School of Journalism. Social Justice Sports Writer, often wearing a hipster beard and displaying myriad bumper-sticker musings on Darwin, coexistence, and hate not serving as a family value, thinks Muhammad Ali significant for sitting out the Vietnam War rather than rising from the stool in his final war with Joe Frazier. He judges athletics an opportunity to pontificate on bullying and homosexuality and offensive nicknames and white privilege rather than the aspirational, motivational, and inspirational moments on the court, field, and ice. He believes sports a vacuous enterprise important only in its power to capture the attention of the masses toward campaigns of public betterment. Athletics become, through the lens of Social Justice Sports Writer, like Putin’s Olympics, only less spectacular.

This is the guy who turned ESPN into MSNBC and Sports Illustrated into Mother Jones. But since he never cared for athletic competition in the first place, Social Justice Sports Writer doesn’t care that we’re subjected to impromptu public service announcements while watching sports and non sequitur political polemics while reading about sports. If he must sit through barbarous contests that reward winners and punish losers, then the rest of us can eat it, too. It’s later than you think when fans can’t escape politics in the one enjoyment that traditionally serves as an escape.

Totalitarianism, as its name suggests, makes an ideology of everything. Its totalizing quality politicizes the apolitical, compelling critics to judge a movie on its creator’s donation record to Planned Parenthood and a university president not by how much he uplifts his students but by how low crawls in groveling to their demands. The bizarre projection of politics onto athletics, one of the endeavors that transcends ideology even in closed societies, advertises a glaring symptom of the creeping totalitarian mindset—which involves individuals and not whole states (at least not initially)—that now overtakes large subsets of the population fixated on safe spaces, microaggressions, white privilege, and trendy terms masking oppressive impositions on strangers as rights. The events in Columbia, Missouri, simultaneously provoke laughter and fear, particularly this latter emotion when confronted with Raymond Aron’s maxim that “theories taught in universities become, within a few years, truths by ministers or administrators” in government.

“We are witnessing the power of today’s college athletes,” Ben Frederickson observes at St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Agree or disagree with them, you would be foolish to ignore them. They are no longer nameless figures in video games from which they don’t profit. They don’t have to stick to sports.”

No, and neither do frustrated op-ed writers languishing in the press box looking down on all those dumb jocks.