Have we come to the sad point in our politically charged world that all American sports leagues now tacitly or otherwise embrace a political affiliation? And is what is happening with fans of Major League Soccer (MLS) and a pair of T-shirt wearing NBA fans just the tip of the iceberg of what the future holds?
Just a few short years ago, the idea that any sports league would have political leanings would have been laughable. What does sports have to do with politics? But today no one is laughing as politics has crowded its way onto the playing field.
For the National Basketball Association (NBA), few would question that both the fan base and the players skew to the left. Note the Golden State Warriors skipping the usual White House visit reserved for the champions, while meeting with the former President Barack Obama instead, or the many tiresome tirades Spurs’ head coach Gregg Popovich has gone on.
Given this background, it is no surprise that two friends wearing T-shirts to a Sacramento Kings game that read simply, "Build the Wall" and "Trump" sent Sacramento and social media into a frenzy.
Meanwhile, for Major League Baseball (MLB) and the National Hockey League (NHL), based on demographics and age of the fan base, it would seem both the players and their supporters lean right.
The National Football League has a unique problem, one different from the other American sport leagues. It was brought to the surface by the national anthem protests.
Your average football fan, it seems, doesn’t have the same political values as your typical NFL player. This rocky dynamic has already caused many sleepless nights for the NFL leadership and owners.
They've watched TV ratings plummet during the height of the anthem controversy.
All this takes us to Major League Soccer, the youngest of the major American sports leagues, in terms of both how long it has been around and the average age of its fan base.
MLS has by far and away the highest percentage of millennials making up its fan base, compared to other leagues. One thing we know about Millennials is they are much more likely than other generations to be political activists, and they have been bringing their political activism with them on game day.
The MLS crowd, which leans left, have in the last few years started to bring political signage to games. When this started, the media lauded this development as a spontaneous and positive effort to fight for universal values, such as antifascism.
Of course, who a fascist is exactly is sometimes in the eye of the bolder, and the anti-fascist signage could have been construed as a not so subtle dig at the current resident of the White House.
Predictably, the political signage gambit got out of hand at MLS games, forcing some teams to develop a political signage policy to limit or ban what kind of signage could be brought into games after flags supporting the radical group Antifa started showing up at games. Rumors persist that Antifa had targeted MLS games as a propaganda opportunity.
Is it just me or is it not a sad state of affairs that politics and sports are becoming synonymous?
Sports used to be a place that all people, no matter their race, age, wealth, religion, or political affiliation could come together as one and root root root for the home team. Excessive politics in places that don’t require politics have become a type of cultural poison that are turning Americans against each other for no particular reason. I long for the day that the only difference that matters again at a sporting event is the final score.
Matthew Kastel is a 25-year veteran of working as an executive in the world of sports, including professional teams, organizations, and some of the largest vendors in the industry. Matt has also written two novels and teaches and lectures at universities on the business of sports. For more information you can visit his website at thirdstrikeproductions.com. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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