The State of Play: Recapping the semester in sports, politics and American society

My friends, the end is finally here. 

Many readers (and by many I mean my dad), would call this the end of an era. For 16 weeks, I have put my blood, sweat and tears into “The State of Play.” Unfortunately, all good things in life — and in the case of my column, unfailingly mediocre things — must come to an end, and that is where we are today. 

So, considering that this will likely be my last opportunity to spout off for the umpteenth time about why politics and sports intersect, I’d like to write a recap of sorts. After writing this column, I can confidently say that it’s taught me a lot. 

For one, it’s taught me that Chicago Bears fans are the biggest snowflakes that NFL fandom has to offer — I’m looking directly at you, Steven — and it’s also taught me that a lot of the higher ups in professional sports are a bunch of feckless bastards, though I’ll admit that I probably already knew that, to an extent. 

Perhaps more than anything else, however, it’s taught me that we actually have quite a lot to learn from sports, more than even I realized despite my card-carrying status as a sports fanatic and wannabe political theorist. 

So with that being said, here are my two biggest takeaways from the semester. 

For the last time, sports and politics cannot be separated.

I’ve heard enough of this: 

“Keep your lib-tard sensibilities off of my gameday,” said a hypothetical but incredibly accurate portrait of a generic sports fan that I just created. “Sports and politics mix just as well as Cosmopolitan Magazine mixes with my raised Ford Super Duty.” 

I’ve heard statements like this countless times. You’ve heard countless statements like this. We’ve all heard countless statements like this, and despite mounting evidence to disprove said statements, people continue to believe that sports and politics do not belong in the same conversation. 

Because this false belief continues to manifest itself in the hearts and minds of sports fans everywhere, I’m going to try to dispel it one last time. Politics and sports intersect, and should intersect, in more ways than I can count. 

Just think back on Colin Kaepernick, North Korea at the Winter Olympics, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey’s Twitter beef with the People’s Republic of China. Even today, we’re witnessing how a lack of government preparedness and leadership can lead to the cancellation of the sports world as we know it. I got plenty more examples where that came from, but I’ll spare you. 

OK, so you accept the reality that sports and politics intersect, but should they? Should Kaepernick take a knee during the national anthem and should LeBron James express his political views?

Listen, sports are how we pass on and instill American values. They’re part of how we teach our society about hard work, fairness and respect. I think we can all agree on that, no matter what kind of car you drive or what cable news network you watch. 

The point I’m trying to make here is that you can’t preach integrity and perseverance to your kid’s Little League team if every time an athlete talks about equality, you throw a fit and turn the game off. 

Sports fans and American society are still different in one fundamental way.

Stupidity and failure.

No, I’m not talking about the working title of my pending autobiography. I’m talking about the two things sports fans still never tolerate. 

In sports, drop a couple of passes or hold your team back and you will find your ass on the bench. Lead your team to a losing record and every fan within a 3,500-mile radius of you will repay you with an all-American “fuck you” and pray for your unemployment. 

USC won the Pac-12 Championship in 2017 and I still considered the season a failure. Clay Helton won eight games last year while playing a backup true freshman at quarterback for the majority of the season. When it was announced that Helton would be back for another go-around, I think a part of the Trojan Family died. 

This is because, for better or for worse, fans still value success. They still care about winning, and they care about the people in charge of their teams winning. Hire a schmuck to take over any college or professional franchise and they’ll have the guy tarred and feathered over social media before the hiring is even made official. 

Unfortunately, in American politics, the same principles sports fans adhere to do not apply. Commit a crime against American democracy and your buddies in the Senate will sacrifice every shred of their dignity to make sure you make it through a trial scot-free. Tell Americans to inject themselves with disinfectant and … well … it looks like Fox News is still working on cleaning that mess up. 

What I’m saying is that in sports, unlike in politics, you can’t pull a fast one over your fans. Whether it’s on the field or on the court, failure and incompetence are on display for all to see, and no amount of bullshit will ever cover it up. 

For that reason alone, it looks like Americans still have a lot to learn from sports. 

Stuart Carson is a junior writing about the intersection of sports, politics and American society. He is also a sports editor at the Daily Trojan. His column, “The State of Play,” typically ran every other Wednesday.