As athletes across the United States continue to gain more power in their respective leagues and pursue influence off the field, the relationship between politics and sports has shifted.
Golfer Phil Mikelson’s move to Saudi-backed LIV Golf in 2022 has raised eyebrows given Saudi Arabia’s history of human rights abuses. In an interview with “Life, Liberty & Levine,” ESPN host Stephen Smith used Mickelson’s decision to demonstrate the hypocritical double standards in sports.
“It’s much easier to hold Phil Mickelson, Gary Player or somebody else accountable. But our government does business with these people,” Smith told Fox News host Mark Levin. “If you’re so disgusted, and you find doing business with these countries as individuals so reprehensible, why don’t we hold our governments to the same level of accountability?”
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Fox News contributor Andy McCarthy echoed Smith’s arguments on “The Big Sunday Show.”
“Governments have to deal with each other in the world, and I don’t think it makes sense to equate governments with how people treat these regimes right now. I think that’s a perfectly fair criticism of what our government is doing, making poor decisions,” McCarthy said. “But athletes, like everyone else, if they’re going to speak publicly, they should be educated about what they’re saying.”
Many argue that they don’t want to see politics mixed into sports. On the other hand, many believe that athletes who play a significant role in shaping American popular culture have a responsibility to use the platforms provided to them.
McCarthy’s co-host Johnny ‘Joey’ Jones spoke to the latter.
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“If you’re a viewer who’s sitting at home and you’re not saying anything or you’re not upset about some of the things you’re seeing on Fox News or CNN’s headlines, but you’re really talking about Phil Mickelson. Angry, then maybe you need to take a broader view of how the world works and understand that stuff like this is happening everywhere. I don’t think ultimately sports needs to get rid of politics,” Jones said.
Mickelson wasn’t the only athlete under fire. LeBron James and NBA players have come under fire for refusing to offer more criticism of the league’s relationship with China. James, in particular, has been outspoken about the issues of race plaguing America.
“I’m not against athletes engaging with foreign countries as long as it’s legal. But I do have a problem when athletes take advantage of their opportunities in the US to go overseas or on US soil, destroying that country and leaving them free to earn money in their field. Millions or hundreds of millions of dollars,” added co-host Katie Pavlich.
Some athletes continue to speak out about global injustice – and continue to face the consequences. Former NBA center Enes Kanter Freedom, who called out Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has revealed that the Turkish government recently offered a $500,000 reward for his capture .
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However, Smith said athletes have too much influence to remain silent on the sidelines.
“With today’s modern athlete, the money invested, the relationships they’ve built with advertisers and sponsors, then of course they have a right to have a say in what’s going on in our society,” Smith said. “They just need to know what they’re talking about, and they need to be impartial in doing so.”