The intersection of politics and sport didn’t just recently emerge amid the killing of George Floyd. I’ve slightly written about its historical significance in an article for the conversation, which was republished by TSN (link later died). In this article, Prof. Haggart and I asked a fair question: What’s the responsibility of internationally famous athletes, or any other well-known figure, to deal with injustices?
This question especially warrants attention today. If I’m not mistaken, LeBron James has been at the vanguard of vehemently denouncing police brutality against the black community. And it’s not as if he just joined the conversation recently. He has continuously exercised his power to make a difference. Alternatively, other powerful athletes have remained silent for reasons that are unknown.
Surprisingly, Drew Brees, former Super Bowl MVP in 2010 for the New Orleans Saints condemned the killings but later commented on his stance about NFL players kneeling saying that he will, “never ever agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America” during an interview with Yahoo Finance. For those readers who are not familiar with the context of this story, let me back up a little.
In August of 2016 at a home preseason game, Kaepernick protested police brutality against the African American community by sitting on the bench during the national anthem. When asked by reporters why he decided to do that, he responded: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football, and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
His activism started to ignite when he continued his protest into the regular season. Media, government, players, among many, started to react differently because political polarization is one of the factors that help explain how we react to political and cultural events. On the one hand, Kaepernick was praised by many for his heroism to peacefully protest the injustices plaguing the US. On the other hand, he was criticized for betraying the military and seeking to divide the NFL to work toward a goal.
Enter Drew Brees. Not only is he a superstar to win plenty of awards, but overall he’s been active in the community, for instance donating millions of dollars to support Hurricane Katrina. I’d say he represents a lot of the values and ideals that many Americans support. For an individual who’s had a pretty remarkable career on and off the field, the damage to his reputation in the aftermath of his comments is saddening.
But why? Why is it that he gets pushback for just simply expressing his opinion? Isn’t that what’s enshrined in the first amendment.
Before I answer that question, I want to discuss “what’s an opinion”? Based on the teachings of Plato, it is understood that there are different types of opinions. For example, “I think Eugenine Bouchard is better looking than Lauren Jackson” is an opinion based on my taste and preferences (I seriously do believe that). Dree Brees saying “never ever agree with anybody disrespecting…” is based on people’s opinions for prudence and politics. “I think we need to move beyond a world of significance testing in statistics” is undergirded in scientific opinion.
Not all of these types of opinions share an equivalence. Suppose that someone contests my opinion that “I think Eugenine Bouchard is better looking than Lauren Jackson”. It would be outright foolish for someone to think that I am wrong. Patrick Stokes, an Australian philosopher, says that we supposedly think we can’t contest people’s political opinions and scientific opinions in the same way as opinions about taste and preferences.
If Dree Brees were to share his opinion and support comparing variables in different probability classes (fat-tailed versus thin-tailed) in analyzing the data amid Covid-19, that should be subject to criticism and argued, unlike my opinion on Bouchard being better looking than Jackson. Moreover, if Dree Brees shares his opinion that the US should not practice social distancing, it has severe consequences because being a superstar athlete, he has the potential to shape the truth and influence people’s behaviour.
Let’s be clear. If this were to happen, there’s no doubt we can’t stop him from saying this. It’s not as if there is a legal case to be made to punish him. But it’s important to note that as a society, we hold athletes to a higher standard because they are uniquely positioned to affect the attitudes and beliefs of their fans.
Drew Brees’ comments failed to capture the truth about the purpose of Kaepernick’s protest and what’s happening in the US. It also was ill-informed. I respect Brees for coming out and apologizing. It reveals his character, and I trust that he’s an ally in the fight against the different types of racism.
By Vinu Selvaratnam
The views expressed in this article are my own and do not represent any institution.