Will the ascent of Donald Trump make American athletes irate again? | Bryan Armen Graham

If sport is a microcosm of life the ascent of Donald Trump is no different with LeBron James and Tom Brady among those speaking their minds from both sides of the debate

The noise cascaded down from the west end of Madison Square Garden. It started in low. Then it started to grow. Donald Trump had just emerged from a tunnel on to the arena floor during the undercard of the middleweight title fight between Gennady Golovkin and David Lemieux, prompting a crescendo of boos from the crowd of more than 20,000 spectators that stuffed the midtown Manhattan arena to capacity. It was October 2015, four months after the real-estate mogul and reality TV star had announced his presidential bid with a speech that established his nativist bona fides by branding Mexicans as rapists and criminals. Now he had turned up to watch a sport largely populated and supported by the minorities his candidacy would seem to marginalise.

Trump made a half-circuit of the arena floor as the din grew to earsplitting volumes and turned into another tunnel almost immediately. As he made his way to the locker room of Golovkin, a Kazakh whose career has soared to new heights since coming to America and settling in Los Angeles, an aide straight-facedly reassured him the reaction from the crowd was 50-50.

Sport has always served as a mirror of American society, from the way Jackie Robinsons penetration of Major League Baseballs colour barrier pushed forward integration to how Muhammad Alis conscientious objection swayed national perceptions of the Vietnam war. Thats no different today as the reactions within US sport to Trumps ascent to the presidency, with his inauguration on Friday, reflect the deep political and cultural divides of the nation itself.

What it means for the games we watch remains as uncertain as what a Trump presidency will mean for the nation at large, but it has become clear that athletes on either side of the aisle are less inclined to stick to sports than any time in the past few decades.

As the money flowing into professional sports has ballooned to stupefying heights in recent decades, athletes have been drilled into eschewing political discourse. Michael Jordans infamous assertion that Republicans buy sneakers, too a quote of dubious authenticity but undeniable influence prompted a generation of athletes to keep their heads down when it came to thorny issues lest they alienate the consumerbase.

But a contentious election and the proliferation of social media have led athletes to speak out on politics with a frequency and ardour not seen since the high water mark of athlete activism of the 1960s, when champions such as Ali, Jim Brown and Kareem AbdulJabbar risked it all to stand on the front line of the civil rights movement.

LeBron James, who stumped for Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail, has said he would not stay at the Trump SoHo when the Cleveland Cavaliers made road trips to New York. When asked whether he would make the traditional visit to the White House were his team to repeat as NBA champions this summer, James was noncommittal: Well have to cross that road, I guess.

But for every sportsperson thats spoken out against Trump, there have been just as many celebrating his victory: the Chicago Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta, the Buffalo Bills lineman Richie Incognito, the Cleveland Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer and the LPGA golfer Natalie Gulbis. Perhaps more revealing are those in sports who have shown a silent allegiance to the president-elect while stopping short of outspoken support, a trend that serves to illustrate the disconnect between the polls that spelled Trumps doom and election results that sealed his coronation.

Consider Trumps fascinatingly opaque relationship with the New England Patriots, the most successful NFL team of their generation. The four-times Super Bowl champions hail from the only state in the union where every county went for Clinton, yet the three figures most responsible for the Patriots runaway dominance the owner, Robert Kraft; the head coach, Bill Belichick; and the quarterback Tom Brady have all shown a quiet allegiance to Trump while stopping short of public endorsement.

Kraft held a meeting with the presidentelect in New York shortly after his victory, while Trump made no secret of the most beautiful letter he received from Belichick. When Brady was spotted with a Make America Great Again hat in his locker at Gillette Stadium shortly after Trump announced his candidacy, the two-times NFL most valuable player said it would be great if his friend and golfing buddy won the presidency. I support all my friends in everything they do, said Brady. I think its pretty remarkable what hes achieved in his life.

Trump has always valued sports as an inextricable stripe of American life. He owned a team in the upstart United States Football League in the early 1980s and hosted a series of major fights at his casino in Atlantic City before it went bankrupt, most notably the 1988 blockbuster between Mike Tyson and Michael Spinks, for which he paid a then-record $11m site fee.

He has actively courted athlete endorsements throughout his political rise, keenly aware of the power of sportsperson as influencer. Its only fitting his election has awakened that potential in ways not seen for years.

Its too soon to say whether the Trump presidency will usher in a renaissance of athlete activism. That may be unwelcome news for those who turn to sports as escapist entertainment. But if it can promote engagement in a democracy thats seen voter turnout fall to perilously low levels, then surely its a small price to pay.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/blog/2017/jan/14/donald-trump-inauguration-us-sports-activism

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