“Stick to sports.” Twitter users tell me to do that a fair amount, in those specific terms or others. But, as 2017 progresses (and my 2016 laments look ever more premature), I don’t think I can do it. I’m not sure what it even means anymore. Those requesting I stick to sports feel no compunction to do so themselves.

Beat writers and “insiders” exist in the sports media. For the rest of us, the job is expressing resonant opinions verbally or on the page. Many of those opinions are not about sports directly. Analytics leaves little to work with for discussion about on-the-field happenings.

What we talk and write about, when it’s not the trivia that rises from Twitter and Reddit, is where sports intersects with culture. Politics has permeated culture completely. Everything is political. It’s all anyone talks and social medias about. Consult your Facebook feed.

Resonating with an opinion is hard when you isolate yourself from what everyone is discussing. Compound that when the discussion may be the biggest tumult many of us have witnessed. Democracy, human values, and the future of the climate may be under threat. It’s kind of a buzzkill for that searing Minnesota Twins take. The most animating sports discussions right now – Colin Kaepernick, the flux at ESPN – are the political ones.

Politics at present is especially hard for media members to avoid. Journalism and politics are tied together intimately. The White House and right-wing outlets have declared an open war on traditional media. Not the editorial pages, but the actual news reporting. Being a journalist and adhering to the tenets of the field are now partisan actions. Much of the political discussion is media criticism.

“Sticking to sports” is not an option for many people. Carving out a safe space where politics does not intrude on your life is not a luxury afforded to many who aren’t male, white, hetero, and relatively affluent. The discussion, moreover, is not about keeping politics out of sports. The national anthem is a political statement. Figures such as Jackie Robinson are celebrated. It is asking for politics not to be a jumping off point for discussion about race, gender, or other matters you find too uncomfortable.

One can try to “stick to sports.” Politics still finds a way inside. I wrote an article about college football a couple of weeks ago. One fanbase was particularly aggrieved. Multiple readers (when not suggesting I light a firework up my ass) berated me for “fake news” and for being a member of the liberal media. This article was about college football realignment. There was no political content.

I don’t shy from opinions. It’s what I do for a living. Anyone who tracks me has a solid idea of where I stand on political matters. But, I have tried to be relatively quiet on the political front.

Before May 1, my independent contracting patron had a policy about not expressing political or social opinions. I hewed to that to the extent I could. Since then, I have been auditioning for potential employers which provides a natural limit on expression. I also consciously limit myself. I find addressing weighty issues over social media dispiriting, exhausting, and mostly futile.

Nonetheless, politics now defines me for others. Readers (when not trying to argue I have autism over a two-letter typo) presume I’m waging a socialist campaign and attribute every thought I have to a left-wing media bubble. Breitbart has written about me at least six times. Me writing this may inspire the seventh article.

Of course, I’m coming at this from the easier side. A strong majority of my colleagues agree with me on most important matters (a hot dog totally being a sandwich excepted). Conservatives in the sports media tread a far more arduous path. They are more likely to be typecast. Expressing a conservative opinion can be deemed social media scorn-worthy if not blog post worthy. Moderate conservatives in the sports media avoid political/social topics altogether or express mild reservations in oblique code.

What is a sports media member to do? You can become a cognitively dissonant robot, dispensing Paul George opinions as the storm blows over. You can let the political thoughts spew forth come what may, alienating a significant portion of your audience. Or, you can try to do what many of us do and claim a middle ground, only to still end up alienating people who are looking for it.

I’d close with some prescription. But there isn’t one. Politics will get less heated, eventually. Even a full-on U.S. dictatorship would rely on some level of ambient normalcy. A cooldown may bring sports back to the metaphorical water cooler.

Many of the discourse changes, however, are a product of the Internet and permanent. We’ve taken out of “human interaction” out of interacting with other humans, at the expense of empathy. We’ve emphasized communication efficiency at the expense of depth and nuance. People will find a way to get mad at you online, whether your stick to sports or not.

About Ty Duffy

Ty is a freelance writer/editor based outside Detroit. He's a Michigan Man. He enjoys dogs, whiskey, yoga, and composing pithy career summaries. Contact him at tyduffy@gmail.com.

  • newdog301

    Stick to sports means stick to sports. It’s not complicated.

    People go to a sports website to read sports stories. They watch a basketball game to see basketball.

    No one is trying to prevent a sportswriter from having an opinion outside sports. It would be weird if they didn’t. Feel free to share opinions on Twitter and with your friends about politics, or whatever else interests you.

    But when you are paid to publish an article it should be about sports. That is your job. Writing about politics is not doing your job.

    • PeteF3

      Do you have this same reaction when a baseball team has Military Appreciation Night?

      • newdog301

        100% of sane people support the military. That’s not a divisive issue.

        For some reason, supporting police has become a controversial issue in this country. To maintain consistency with my point of view, yes, I did not have a problem when the NFL said the Dallas Cowboys could not have a Dallas PD decal on their helmets last season.

        And it’s not like Military Appreciation Night involves the commentators talking about the Iraq War. They’re essentially honoring the people in attendance. Now with Colin Kaepernick there is a need for commentators to talk about police brutality and racism during games. That is what bothers a lot of people. Not that those issues aren’t important, but there are legitimate points of view on both sides of the issue shared by millions. Because of that, it is best to not have a sporting event address it.

        • namingrightsforsale

          Sane people don’t support the military; they support the sacrifices of the individuals who genuinely serve out of good intentions, but they do not support the numerous cultural problems in the military nor accept that there should need to be a military in an ideal world. Don’t forget the nuance here. I think you get it because you mentioned how Military Appreciation Nights are about honoring veterans, but I wanted to make sure it was clear.

          • newdog301

            “but they do not support the numerous cultural problems in the military nor accept that there should need to be a military in an ideal world.”

            There are zero cultural problems in the military. The world would be a better place if the US military was stationed everywhere, but unfortunately we don’t have the budget or the manpower to do it. Not military involvement, but the brave men and women ensuring that every person had access to the rights we do in the US.

            I bet you’re one of those people who thinks Angela Merkel is the leader of the free world, right? The person who didn’t even think gay people should have the freedom to get married. I think that inherently disqualifies her from that title.

          • namingrightsforsale

            I’ve talked to enough former service members to know with absolute certainty that there are cultural problems in the US military. That doesn’t mean that every individual service member is a bad person or ascribes to that culture, but that culture does exist and it is not helpful to deny it. You are right that the world would be a better place if everyone had access to the same rights we have here, but you also have to remember that the US is compromised in its ability to help others get those rights – and that not everyone in the US actually enjoy those rights – because of problems we have domestically (namely the presence of political forces that pursue destructive, regressive policies to serve the interests of a small minority.)

    • Will Pitts

      Here’s someone who never bothered to read the article.

      • newdog301

        Nope, I read it. My thoughts completely reflect a rejection of his premise.

        There is no need for politics to ever enter the conversation during a Kansas City Chiefs vs. Buffalo Bills game.

  • philly97

    WILL EVERYONE JUST STICK TO SPORTS DAMMIT?

  • BobLee Says

    I suppose I am “a crazy right-wing guy” if everyone has to be a something. I’m fine with all these website columnists “going political” and all labeling themselves some version of holier-than-thou moderates (aren’t they all?). That toothpaste is totally out of the tube.

    I watch 150+ Cardinals games/year on MLB.tv. I have no clue what the FSMW broadcast crew’s socio-cultural-political bent is. Don’t know if that is by choice or by chance. For 3 hours/night I just enjoy “watching baseball”. The other 21 hours/day is verbal combat. These be troubled times….

  • sportsfan365

    What a shame that this site has succumbed to lazy journalism. Getting the scoop is hard work. Spinning social narratives is not.