Bigger than a Ballgame: The Political is Everything

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Every time I hear or see some version of “You’re just a(n) [actor, athlete, journalist, kid, etc], stick to what you know,” I laugh and then roll my eyes.

I’m sorry, do you not understand how we each are global citizens a) who are affected by the consequences of macro-level policies, decisions, and actions and b) whose actions have consequences on macro- and micro-levels?

Everything I do is political, from choosing to wear my NIKE sneakers (were they made by a corporation that uses child labor, what is the global environmental impact of the company, how do the companies policies affect global and international trade, relations, etc) to choosing what television shows to watch (which companies advertise during the show, what is their reputation for diversity at all levels of production, etc) to which sports and teams I am a fan of (is the sport impacted by environmental concerns, does a league or team reproduce traditional and oppressive forms of existence or advocate for more progressive social footprints, etc) WHETHER I AM AWARE OF IT OR NOT. Every action you take has a political implication, WHETHER YOU ARE ACTIVELY AWARE OF THIS OR NOT.

So don’t come at people who are more awake to their impact on the world than you are.

You want to know why an athlete should speak up about something like, let’s say, climate change?

Let’s go.

First, all sports have roots in our childhoods. We started in a youth league. We watched football with our dads. We saw the Olympics on television and we spent our Christmas breaks making wobbly figure-8s at the pond in our grandmother’s back yard. As global warming increases, the future of childhood is threatened. Higher temperatures make outside play in locations particularly affected (see Australian summers of late) undesirable if not, at some points, dangerous. Drier and hotter climates mean grass is both harder to grow and harder to upkeep, so the lawns and fields of our childhood aren’t as lush for our children and their children. This means that their bodies are subject to different kinds of injuries and stresses. Talk to any soccer player about the difference between a grass field and a turf one, for god’s sake. Not to mention that climate change and pollution affect things like air quality, pollen counts (i.e., allergens in the air), which increases the incidence of seasonal allergies and asthma, as well as the degree to which it affects day-to-day life.

Second, climate change affects play on the professional level. Let’s talk heat, for one, since it’s been such a big issue this NWSL season. Temperatures continue to rise, globally. NASA reports that this past March was the second hottest on record–since 1880.

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Oh, boy, look at the US in that graphic of global temperature trends since 1880–the US is trending anywhere from .5 degrees to almost two degrees warmer. As most people can attest, two degrees can make a big difference when you’re arguing with your dad about how hot the house is and he’s refusing to turn the AC lower because “when I was a kid all we had was one fan for seven people in the main room of the house and we survived” and you’re left there drowning in your pool of adolescent sweat.

Look at Brazil, where some of our most famous global soccer players come from, where the temperature is trending even higher, over five degrees in some places. Look at the Arctic, also trending up to and over five degrees warmer, which is why there is genuine concern about the future inhabitability of coastal areas across the globe.

And now let’s remember that soccer is a game played outside. In all varieties of weather–and in the US, especially in the summertime months. Let’s remember Rachel Daly, who literally collapsed with heat exhaustion under 90+ degree temperatures and 90%+ humidity, earlier this season. As the climate continues to get warmer, these conditions will only become more and more common, and this will affect the play of soccer–of all sports. Already, some soccer pundits are struggling with the idea of hydration breaks, whether they’re truly necessary, how to implement them, how they interfere with the ebb and flow (you see what I did there, right?) of the game. Already due to the ability to and cost of maintaining grass fields, some stadiums are opting for turf instead. Turf holds up longer, doesn’t require as much intervention or water to maintain, sure, but it also takes a bigger toll on the bodies of athletes, on the speed of the game, on the direction and drive of the ball. It changes the game to such an effect that the Men’s World Cup has never been played on it because it wouldn’t be the same game.

I could talk about so much more. About how gun policies affect safety at large public events. About how international policies affect the ability of players to move efficiently between leagues and teams (a big concern after Brexit was the ability of international players to obtain the necessary status to live and play in England; a big concern after the election of Trump has been how the anti-immigration policies will affect the ability of players from foreign countries to come into the US to play, train, and more). Or how military actions fuel anti-Western sentiments across the globe and become radicalized, leading to large-scale public tragedies like the Borussia Dortmund bus bomb on the way to a Champions League quarter-final match against Monaco earlier this year, or the 2015 terror attack in Paris, where three explosions occurred outside the Stade de France during a friendly between France and Germany, or how the nationalist rhetoric of the Right in the US has radicalized a number of white men to commit acts of terror. Or I could talk about US culture, rape culture, domestic violence, and the legal system that in combination with access to guns, spells bad news for everyone, everywhere.

You might think I’m the Woman Who Called Wolf but my point is that these are the kind of things that always happen somewhere else, until they don’t. Until they happen here. [Ask me about the 2012 Sikh temple shooting that took place less than three miles from where I grew up and I’ll tell you all about just how near somewhere else can be.]

I’m not saying the wolf is coming. I’m saying that sports are in every way connected to the political. And every athlete is a citizen of a community, a nation, the world as a whole.

And they have not only the right but the responsibility as citizens to speak up for what they believe in.

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