Thursday, June 12, 2008

Who Your Favorite Athletes Are Voting For - Does It Matter To You?

The Herald has an excellent article this morning about political activism among local professional athletes. Usually, athletes will stay away from the subject because (a) they don't want to spark any sort of clubhouse antipathy with different-minded teammates, (b) they don't particularly follow politics or current events all too much, and/or (c) they fear losing endorsements or fans with their public pronouncements about political issues.

A handful of South Florida professional athletes, however, have been willing to come out with their 2008 presidential preferences. On the Obama side, we have Heat players Alonzo Mourning (who has previously donated $25,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee) and Shawn Marion. For McCain, we have Dolphins kicker Jay Feely, Marlins outfielder Luis Gonzalez (who has actually stumped for the Arizona Senator), and pitcher Andrew Miller.

So I ask South Florida sports nation, knowing this information about some of your beloved athletes - does it matter to you? Do you think any more or less of Zo or Gonzo because of their professed political leanings?

Many will say, as with entertainers of any stripe like actors or musicians, that these people should simply "shut up and act/sing/play". These types will actually acquire vitriol for the entertainer who doesn't pledge allegiance to their vision of America, and may even launch boycotts against said entertainers. I probably fall on the milder side of this response. I strongly believe in freedom of speech, and definitely applaud any athlete who deigns to speak out on any matter of national/world consequence. But I will say, "I still love Athlete X, I just wish he wasn't a rabid member of Party Y." I will still attend his games, still cheer my heart out for him, still purchase his jersey. But there's that little bit of "Aw, shucks" in the back of my mind when I get to thinking about how "wrong" he may be politically.

What say you?


ASponge said...

This is a very interesting question. I tend to waver towards the more outspoken athletes...I can take only so much ambivalence. Cliche quotes like "we just wanted the W" and "take it one game at a time" are getting old.

That being said, a couple things surprised me. Andrew Miller supports John McCain? I didn't peg him for a Republican, based on his hairstyle and demeanor. Luis Gonzalez makes sense. I would be curious to see if black athletes are more inclined to vote Obama, since he represents in politics what many of them have represented in athletics.

Great, great post.

ASponge said...

One additional thing:

I heard David Samson say he supports John McCain on the radio, and he was about as adamant as can be. I think his words were, "I don't see how you can support anyone else."

An interesting followup question would be whether sports writers and bloggers should reveal their political reluctance to do so exonerates the athletes. It's a very tough position, because you don't want to alienate fans.

E.J. said...

Exactly! Note how not once in that post did I tip my hat as to my own political predilections. I can never fault an athlete for not speaking out - I understand exactly where the impulse to keep that hidden from public view comes from, especially when you are trying to attact, or certainly trying not repel, readers/fans.

I suppose if there's enough of a groundswell of curiosity, I'd be willing to divulge my 2008 presidential leanings.

Christian said...

Interesting...There's no doubt that we all wonder where our favorite athletes pledge their allegiance to politics-wise....But yea, it doesn't matter to me who they're for, as long as they shoot well, or throw accurately, and hit hard.

E.J. said...

Well said, Christian. We need to remember why we are sports fans in the first place - and it never has ANYTHING to do with the politics of the individual athletes.

ASponge said...

Maybe it would come down to something like this:

1. An athlete says "I happen to favor Obama/McCain right now, but it's just my opinion. I encourage all of you to come to your own decisions"


2. An athlete goes out campiagning hard and slamming the opponent with campaign rhetoric.

I think most athletes could get away with the first. The only potential problem I could see is a black athlete supporting John McCain and being targeted as "an Uncle Tom," not that I'm trying to bring any more race discussion here (lord knows we have had enough from the media)

E.J. said...

The "Uncle Tom" charge roils me. It always seems to suggest that black people are supposed to "fall into line" and "be obedient" to the Democratic Party and principles. I have more respect for black people, like all other people, as individuals with individual minds and preferences, than that. But I definitely agree with you, Asponge - that line of thinking and concern is out there.

Here are some famous black Republican athletes, old and new (source: I was able to confirm these on multiple web sites): Lynn Swann, Karl Malone, Tiger Woods, J.C. Watts, Frank Thomas, Derek Jeter, Ernie Banks, David Robinson, Gale Sayers, and Jackie Robinson

Other famous Republican athletes: Alex Rodriguez, Joe Torre, Cal Ripken, Roger Staubach, Carlos Beltran, Jason Sehorn, Curt Schilling, Don Mattingly, Pat Riley, Steve Largent, Jack Kemp, Nolan Ryan

Some famous Democrat athletes: Lance Armstrong, Hank Aaron, Larry Bird, John McEnroe, Bill Walton, Franco Harris, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Bill Bradley

Paul said...

Regarding when the public becomes interested in an athlete's political stance, it's important to draw a distinction between simply supporting one candidate over another--which probably tends to get little or no public notice--and the situation where an athlete makes statements on specific issues. A public backlash against someone is far more likely to occur when an athlete says something unpopular, especially when the issue is divisive. For lack of a better example, think of Tim Hardaway's comments regarding homosexuality, which is--like it or not--a semi-political issue. If Hardaway came out and said he supported a particular anti-homosexual candidate then most likely no one would have cared.

I'm not sure if I'm getting my point across here, only that I see a pretty stark difference in comments on issues and supporting of a particular candidate, especially where the issue is contraversial.

ASponge said...

Paul, your point is very clear, and I completely agree with you.

The Tim Hardaway fiasco put my fandom in real jeopardy...I'm still not sure how I feel about him today, but at least he made strides to connect with the gay community.

As for the list of athletes and their parties...I think it's safe to say Bill Walton was the most obvious on that list.

And the Uncle Tom thing...we're on the same page, EJ. It's very unfortunate, but it's a stigma I think a lot of these athletes are up against.

One final point: Charles Barkley used to be a Republican, but now he's comically a Democrat (go see his comments...hilarious). There's a guy not too worried about the public backlash.