Should professionals sports be considered private business endeavors, entertainment, or public platforms that can serve noble purposes such as social responsibility When it comes to league sports, we often hear from team owners assuring us that they are running business franchises. This is often the case when star players transfer between teams for various reasons. When NBA star Dwyane Wade left the Miami Heat—where he was a franchise player—for the Chicago Bulls, the transfer issue was made clear as Wade did not get as much of a salary as he expected, which the Bulls were happy to extend. As a native of Chicago, the transfer made even more sense for Wade, who could have stayed in Miami for less money and to be adored by fans; however, this was a business decision.
Professional athletes are often thrust into the public eye; it is up to them to craft their image as much as possible. Do they have to meet the expectations of fans in every regard? In the mid-1990s, NBA fans were delighted by superstars such as Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley in their prime. Jordan would not only become the greatest of all time; he also came across as a charismatic figure who embraced the opportunity to be a role model to children who wanted to “be like Mike.” On the other hand we had Barkley, an ultra-dominant and highly skilled player who infamously stated that he “was not like Mike” because he was not paid to be a role model. A few sociologists and pragmatists believed that Barkley’s philosophy was brutally appropriate, but fellow NBA star Karl Malone differed in opinion by saying that nobody chooses to be a role model; in the case of NBA stars, fans make that choice and athletes are expected to shoulder that burden.
Fast-forward to 2017, a dark time for American politics and a country deeply divided by political, religious and racial lines. The NBA has come a long way since the days of Barkley breaking the hearts of young fans; in fact, Barkley is now a popular sports analyst who is not afraid to participate in charitable events or to speak his mind in support of social justice. Although the NBA as a league has not taken a stand against the divisive policies of the Trump administration, quite a few players, coaches, and back office staff members have made it clear that they do not support the status quo.
One of the most eloquent statements in the wake of the election of United States President Donald Trump was Greg Popovich, legendary coach of the San Antonio Spurs. Popovich clearly stated that he was afraid about the future of the country under Trump; he called himself “a rich white guy” who should not be scared, but he was talking on behalf of his players and fans who embrace diversity. Popovich said that it looked like the end of an era for America as he punctuated: “We are Rome.” The NBA seems to have settled comfortably against the worst policies of the Trump administration, but the same cannot be said about Major League Baseball. According to a late February ESPN column by Jayson Stark, the MLB is focusing strictly on business and avoiding the high road after a couple of incidents that saw players chastised by social media netizens after the athletes made statements against the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant policies.
Months before the new MLB season begins, the League has chosen to stay silent despite its ranks being filled with foreigners who come mostly from Latin America, the Caribbean and Japan. In the past, the MLB has embraced diversity and social justice, but it seems as if the league is not ready to embrace that attitude this time around.