Speech, Sports, and Society

Constant Controversy

For better or for worse, the two worlds of sports and politics have always been intertwined, and for the past few years the NFL has been the king of crossover controversy. Controversies such Brett Favre sending inappropriate phographs to a female journalist or the Ray Rice domestic violence scandal ignite nation-wide discussions on a wide range of issues that effect society at large. The protests of police brutality taking place during the national anthem sparked by Colin Kaepernick have clearly taken center stage in the contemporary political arena. The most recent scandal centers around Cam Newton’s dismissive comments to a female journalist, the response to which is what sparked this post.

What Should Be Done?

In response to these controversies, calls for censorship are commonly articulated from both sides of the political spectrum. Right-leaning NFL fans have called for those who kneel or sit during the national anthem to face dire consequences for exercising freedom of expression. President Trump went as far as to say that players who refuse to stand for the national anthem should be “fired.” ESPN’s removal of announcer Robert Lee from UVA’s home opener because of his name after the events in Charlottesville is another particularly ridiculous recent example from the other side of the spectrum. The league itself is no stranger to censorship, having earned the nickname “No Fun League” in response to its crackdown on player celebrations and uniform customization.

The walls appears to be closing in from all sides. Is censorship the only option?

A Better Path

In the face of ignorance, it is easy to add fuel to the fire by espousing hatred or disgust in response. Attacking in this manner often builds more animosity and exacerbates the problem. In the face of Newton’s comments this past week, Sunday NFL Countdown host Samantha Ponder brilliantly articulates an alternative response that liberals should strive to replicate:

“You know what’s not gonna solve this problem? Forced apologies and public shame. Shame alone makes people hide, not change. And what’s our goal anyway? The goal isn’t to shout people down and make them lose money or even make them shut up. The goal is to open up minds and change hearts… not reduce human beings to either heroes or villains and holding trials where we are both judge and jury in the Coliseum-like court of social media.”

The political climate in the United States is trending heavily in the direction of divisive outrage, but this trend doesn’t have to continue. Ad hominem attacks clearly make this problem worse by creating a scenario where defenders of bad ideas can shift the conversation from defending the ideas to defending themselves. Sam’s self-awareness and the illustration of her thought process to the audience in coming to this conclusion is a shining example of the mature, open-minded discourse we should all strive to match in politics and in life.

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