When politics and sport collide

Player protests – TV star outbursts – presidential insults – marriage debates. Welcome to modern sport.

Over the past two weeks the world has seen what happens when sport collides with the juggernaut that is government, and it’s been far from pretty.

From TV host Sam Newman blowing off at the AFL, to the US – where NFL players are protesting against their president – and now to the NRL, where the opening act has stolen the spotlight from this weekend’s grand finalists.

In Australia, it’s the plebiscite on same-sex marriage that has shown politics in sport is inescapable. In the US, it’s player support for the #BlackLivesMatter movement that’s morphed into a statement against Donald Trump. In both countries, political leaders have refused to watch from the sidelines.

Wally Lewis talks politics in sport with Hatch@Macleay (Photo: Max Gay)

Speaking to Hatch, NRL legend Wally ‘King’ Lewis said that politicians voicing their opinion on sport, was nothing new.

“Over the years I have found that not only politics but politicians find a golden opportunity to get their name and face on the front page and bleed what they possibly can out of it.”

“Everyone has their own opinion and is entitled to have one.”

Politics and sport converged when the NRL booked international artist Macklemore to perform at Sunday’s Grand Final in Sydney.

The LGBTIQ activist’s playlist will include ‘Same Love”, which supports same-sex marriage (NOTE: The controversy has seen the song return to No.1 on iTunes.)

So forget Cooper Cronk’s farewell from his beloved Storm, or North Queensland’s cinderella story, it’s now a battle between the YES vote and NO vote.

Hatch asked Sydney commuters this morning (Friday) what they thought about politics in sport, and not surprisingly, opinions were spit.

“It can be the bridge that brings the two together.”

“Sport is an extension of society, as is politics.”

“Sport is good, politics is bad, the two need to be separate.”

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott upped the political ante when he put in his two cents, tweeting: “Footy fans shouldn’t be subjected to a politicised grand final. Sport is Sport!” Fellow MP Bob Katter then compared Macklemore’s performance to: “…sewage seeping into the debutante ball.”

Ex-NRL player Tony Wall started a petition on change.org demanding that: “LGBTIQ politics is taken out of the NRL,” and that the song not be played. My mid-morning Friday, over 13,000 people had added their electronic signature.

Macklemore described his critics as “angry, old white men,” and today he’s cancelled a scheduled media conference in Sydney.

NRL CEO Todd Greenberg stands by decision to have the rap artist perform: “I think it’s one of the bravest decisions we’ve made for pre-match entertainment, but people will be the judge of that after the show on Sunday,” he said.

But what started this whole conversation? 

It was outspoken TV host Sam Newman who started the debate over politics in sport, on the AFL Footy Show.

Newman unleashed on the AFL: “Who gives you the right to tell people and to put what people should do on the football,” he said.

Newman’s rant came just hours after AFL House was evacuated, after it received phone threats for showing its support for same-sex marriage.

But while the league chose sides, Carlton came out to stress it hadn’t. “We respect that this is about personal choice, and as such don’t intend to campaign on the issue.”

The Blues declared themselves to be a “leader in engendering equality” but some fans aren’t happy with the club’s stance.

In the US, all eyes on are on the NFL where players are currently taking a stance against their President, Donald Trump, by protesting during the National Anthem.

It actually began last year when former 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick got down on one knee as The Star Spangled Banner played before a game. He continued to do so throughout the season to bring attention to police brutality against African-Americans.

My Brother! United as One! @e_reid35

A post shared by colin kaepernick (@kaepernick7) on

Since then the Seattle Seahawks have linked arms, while four members of the Miami Dolphins took to the knee, becoming the first players outside Kaepernick to join the protest.

President Trump added fuel to the flames at a rally in Alabama, challenging league owners to fire any “son of a bitch” who didn’t stand for the anthem.

Following his outburst, several players from the Buffalo Bills, Denver Broncos, New York Giants, Detroit Lions, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons did not stand for the anthem. Even the Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, a supporter of Trump, kneeled in protest.

While the Titans, Seahawks and the Steelers choose to stay in their locker room for the anthem.

The rest of the NFL teams stood with arms locked, though some players from those teams chose to kneel. Members of the Dolphins also wore ‘I’m with Kaep’ shirts.

With all this chaos, and despite Donald Trump saying otherwise, NFL ratings are up.

Now it’s Australia’s turn to watch the fall-out from politics entering sport.

The AFL Grand Final is this Saturday and the NRL Grand Final kicks off on Sunday. (Match previews and reports, also on Hatch)Kamilia Hanna (with Max Gay)

About Kamilia Hanna 19 Articles
I am a girl from Sydney Australia who fell in love with sports. I love my NRL, Football and combat sports. I'm a pretty decent video editor according to my lecturers. If you have a story idea hit me up at khanna@mymacleay.edu.au