Rick Zamperin: Sports and politics collide over MLB All-Star Game

It seems that since the start of the 20th century, sports and politics have collided on many explosively polarizing issues.

The latest example comes from Major League Baseball, where Texas Gov. Greg Abbott declined the Texas Rangers’ invitation to throw out the ceremonial first pitch before Monday’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Abbott said his reasoning was born out of MLB’s decision to move this summer’s All-Star game out of Atlanta, Ga., after the state recently passed voting laws that many believe will make it difficult for minorities to vote.

In a statement, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said the decision was “the best way to demonstrate our values as a sport” and was made after consulting with teams, the MLB Players’ Association and The Players Alliance.

The Midsummer Classic has since been moved to Denver, Colo.

“I was looking forward to throwing out the first pitch at the Texas Rangers’ home opening game until MLB adopted what has turned out to be a false narrative about Georgia’s election law reforms,” the Republican governor tweeted Monday.

“It is shameful that America’s pastime is being influenced by partisan politics,” said Abbott, and he added that Texas will not seek to host the All-Star Game, or any other MLB special event.

This certainly isn’t the first time that sports and politics have collided.

Take, for example, the Black Power Salute at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. Tommie Smith and John Carlos, two Black athletes, each raised a black-gloved fist in the air during the U.S. national anthem after reaching the podium in the 200-metre event to protest human rights abuses.

Both men were booted from the Olympic Village after the International Olympic Committee threatened to toss out the entire American track and field team.

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Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the Star-Spangled Banner during the 2016 National Football League season to protest police brutality and racial inequality. His stance became a huge talking point, but apart from shining a brighter light on the situation many minorities face, it still remains an issue.

The former San Francisco 49ers quarterback has not played a down in the league since that season ended, leaving many to believe that he was blackballed by NFL owners.

Last summer, NBA players boycotted playoff games in the Disney World bubble to protest the police shooting of Jacob Blake, as well as the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, which also led to games being postponed in the WNBA, MLB, NHL and MLS.

Blake was left partly paralyzed after he was shot in the back seven times during an interaction with a white police officer last August. The District Attorney in Kenosha, Wis., did not charge the officer involved after determining the case would have been hard to prove in court.

More than a year after Taylor was shot and killed in a botched police raid, the three officers involved have not been charged in her death. The officer charged with murder and manslaughter in the death of Floyd is currently on trial.

All three gestures for justice were genuine pleas for change, but we clearly still have a long way to go because racism and police brutality still exist, and not only in America.

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Still, there are some individuals who have succeeded in using their platform in the sports arena to affect change in our world.

The late Muhammad Ali embodied the collision between sports and politics, a boxing legend who at the height of his career in the ring became one of the world’s most iconic activists.

In 1967, Ali refused to serve in the United States Army during the Vietnam War — citing his religious beliefs and his opposition to the conflict. He was found guilty of draft evasion and was stripped of his boxing title and banned from the sport for three and a half years.

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He used that time to give speeches on university campuses across America and became an antiwar and civil rights hero.

Ali returned to the ring in 1970, and the following year the U.S. Supreme Court overturned his conviction. In 1990, nearly two decades after he retired from boxing, Ali helped negotiate the release of 15 American hostages from Iraq and later became a Messenger of Peace with the United Nations and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005.

Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James launched the nonprofit group More Than a Vote in the summer of 2020 to help combat Black voter suppression in the U.S.

The group played a big part in having 23 of the NBA’s 30 teams use their arenas or practice facilities as voting sites and worked with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund to recruit 40,000 poll workers.

More than 66 per cent of eligible voters in the U.S. cast a ballot in the 2020 presidential election, the highest percentage in 120 years — since 1900.

It is interesting to note that Major League Baseball selected Globe Life Field, the home of the Texas Rangers, to play a big part in the 2020 playoff bubble.

The stadium hosted one National League Divisional Series, the NLCS and the World Series.

I wonder if Abbott would have made the same decision if the Rangers were tasked with hosting this year’s playoffs using another bubble format?

Rick Zamperin is the assistant program, news and senior sports director at Global News Radio 900 CHML.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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