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Political factions oppose each other like passionate sports fans

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(Vernon Bryant/The Dallas Morning News/TNS)

This past weekend has been dominated with news of exchanges involving President Trump’s opinions on protests in sports. Sports, which at face value seem relatively apolitical, rely on the idea of people supporting a team. It doesn’t matter whether teams are objectively good or bad (although, up here in Massachusetts, we certainly can’t complain). Most people base their preference of sports teams on their geographic location, and then passionately support their side.

This is why it’s interesting that this weekend’s biggest news has been that the President of the United States has gotten into arguments over sports. And of course, when the president gets involved, we see people’s reactions polarized into political teams too. The most salient example is that of Colin Kaepernick, the former quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, who gained national attention for refusing to stand during the national anthem as a form of protest.

Very quickly, support for Kaepernick became about more than just the National Football League, but rather a proxy for a host of other abstract ideas. It split people into politically polarized teams: Those for Kaepernick saw it as a justified act of protest, while those against saw it as blatant disrespect and lack of patriotism. Suddenly, supporting Kaepernick became about more than football, it became about whether you were racist or unpatriotic.

This “sports team” mentality isn’t new when it comes to politics, but it is increasing rapidly. There is no dearth of articles detailing the rapidly growing problem of political polarization. However, when Trump himself enters the debate, it causes a level of polarization along party lines that we wouldn’t otherwise see.

Take, for instance, the feud between Trump and National Basketball Association star Stephen Curry. When Curry and members of the Golden State Warriors made public statements implying that they would choose not to accept the invitation to visit the White House, Trump quickly attempted to save face by rescinding the invitation via (of course) Twitter. Naturally, this caused controversy about whether Trump’s response was appropriate, or whether members of the Warriors were being disrespectful by declining to attend. All things considered, it doesn’t seem like that big of an issue, especially when we have pressing issues like the nuclear threat from North Korea or the looming uncertainty with regard to America’s global dominance. However, Trump is in the world’s largest spotlight, so whatever he says immediately becomes the subject of national conversation.

Over the past weekend, Trump’s Twitter has tweeted or retweeted 11 posts regarding the controversies with the NFL or with the Warriors. Juxtaposed between these rants is a mention of Iran’s nuclear capabilities, and of the North Korean foreign minister. Whatever Trump decides to focus the majority of his energy on will be what the media eventually decides to report on. Right now, this means that the national conversation isn’t about our national security in the face of a nuclear confrontation, but about sports teams.

Again, this means that people will support the Trump Team or the Anti-Trump Team about as readily as they would follow the New England Patriots or the New York Jets. This isn’t to say that both sides are entirely without merit. There’s an argument to be had from those who want to call attention to racial injustice in America, and also one from those who view refusing to stand during the national anthem as a form of disrespect.

Last year, the Pioneer Valley learned this lesson when Hampshire College tried to remove the American flag from its campus. There are reasonable arguments about why America has much to improve on with regard to racial and social justice. There are also reasonable arguments from those who believe that the Hampshire flag burning that occurred overnight last semester, while protected by the First Amendment speech, is still highly distasteful and disrespectful. There’s nothing wrong with starting national and local dialogues on these issues.

The problem comes when the President himself adds fuel to the fire, causing already polarized issues to take on levels of group mentality usually only found in sports. It’s curious that the main news of the weekend involved sports teams. Sports has always been political, and has had a place in our national consciousness for creating dialogues. Politics has always been, to some extent, about teams, but it’s a problem that’s getting worse over time. With any luck, we might eventually find a proper balance – or more likely, we’ll just all collectively forget about it in time.

Edridge D’Souza is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]

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