Will the Conservative American Athlete Please Take a Stand?

While sports and politics were never meant to blend, athletes are finding that they have a powerful voice – at least, athletes who conform to a certain ideology.

This past week I watched from my couch as Caitlyn (Bruce) Jenner received the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the 2015 ESPYS for “embracing her identity and doing so in a public way to help move forward a constructive dialogue about progress and acceptance,” according to a statement put out by ESPN.

Wherever you fall on the issue of transgender sex reassignment surgery, the ESPYS are simply not the proper venue to acknowledge such actions, or individuals.

ESPY (short for Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly) Awards have always been intended to recognize outstanding sports-related performances. The Arthur Ashe Award, an extension of the ESPY Awards, is presented to individuals whose contributions “transcend” sports; however, it is important to note that in its relatively short history not all recipients of the award have been former athletes. Yet, the argument some will make is that Bruce Jenner’s achievements as an Olympian qualifies Caitlyn to receive the award. This notion is illogical on multiple levels.

Caitlyn Jenner accepts the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPY Awards at the Microsoft Theater on Wednesday, July 15, 2015, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)
Caitlyn (Bruce) Jenner accepts the Arthur Ashe award for his courage as a transsexual (Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP).

If individuals would set aside preconceptions and objectively look at the event that unfolded on Wednesday night, which a record 7.7 million people tuned in to view, we could perhaps begin to have an honest conversation about the appropriateness of delivering the award to Jenner. Instead, those who promote Jenner as a hero will continue to cast spurious accusations of intolerance and narrow-mindedness at conservatives who oppose the decision.

I can’t help but shake my head at the double standard in which ESPN, the largest sports media outlet in the world, operates. And I also can’t help but ask the question that no one else is asking:

“Where are all the conservative athletes?”

In this day and age we need these athletes more than ever to take advantage of the platform that they have been given. The progressive, liberal movement that has swept across our nation – like a perfectly executed “wave” in a sports arena – continues to weather away the moral bedrock of our nation, and few people of influence are standing up and fighting to stop it.

In today’s society, conservative athletes understand the risks involved with asserting their beliefs or opinions. By speaking openly on contentious topics they jeopardize becoming political piñatas, tarnishing their notoriety and, in special circumstances, destroying their livelihood.

The pressure from mainstream media placed upon athletes to not evoke the name of Jesus Christ or make conservative political remarks is becoming outrageous. This claim should not be simply discarded as conservative paranoia either, but acknowledged as the unequal standard that liberalism continues to operate by. They ask for tolerance of their own practices, but then attempt to restrict the free speech that all Americans are endowed with – specifically, conservative speech.

For example, in a recent reprimanding, UFC President Dana White told Yoel Romero, a Cuban middleweight fighter, to keep his religion and politics at home.

“You just won the biggest fight of your career, America doesn’t want to hear your thoughts on Jesus. Keep that stuff at home; religion, politics, all that stuff,” White warned Romero.

The unfortunate disdaining of Tim Tebow is another prime case of mainstream media engaging in conservative bias.

The New York Jets versus the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on November 17, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Garrett W. Ellwood/Getty Images)
Because of his outspokenness and conservative activism, Tim Tebow became a polarizing target (Garrett W. Ellwood/Getty Images).

Starting quarterback for Florida in college, Tebow ended his collegiate career with multiple SEC championships, two BCS National Championships and a Heisman Trophy. He would go on to play a pivotal role for the 2011 Denver Broncos team that made an unlikely postseason appearance. His 80-yard touchdown to Demaryius Thomas on the opening play of overtime against the Pittsburgh Steelers, which sealed the playoff victory for the Broncos, is a thing of legend.

However, Tebow was also strongly criticized by some within the media for polarizing actions he took to express his Christian faith. Always one prepared to verbally share his faith, it was Tebow’s nonverbal actions that got him in really hot water.

A few instances of Tebow taking action and expressing his beliefs include: the time he wore eye black that referenced a Bible verse or the time he got down on one knee and prayed or his Super Bowl ad that had an underlying pro-life message. These decisions that he made to express his beliefs were met with extreme criticism and outrage by many within the media.

It should be easy for us to understand why conservative athletes don’t voice their beliefs anymore. They are frightened and discouraged by the backlash that is sure to follow; they are too aware of the public condemnation that will most certainly be leveled against them. They are cautioned by both PR personnel and their friends to just “stay out of it.” They are warned that they may alienate their fan base. It is even plausible that sponsors may distance themselves from the athlete if his or her comments are too “inflammatory.”

These are all legitimate fears that conservative athletes have to consider before they offer their two cents on a particular political subject. The follow up question then would be: in America, a country that prides itself in its freedom and liberty, should “free speech” carry with it so many consequences?

In Jenner’s acceptance speech, he makes it quite clear to the world that the spotlight that athletes are given can be a tremendously influential tool.

“If there is one thing I do know about my life, it is the power of the spotlight. Sometimes it gets overwhelming, but with attention comes responsibility. As a group, as athletes, how you conduct your lives, what you say, what you do, is absorbed and observed by millions of people, especially young people,” Jenner said.

So why can’t conservative athletes conduct their lives in a manner that isn’t overtly scrutinized and criticized? When will they be afforded the freedom to say what they want and do what they do, without public backlash, propagated by the mainstream media?

The truth isn’t pretty.

It starts when conservative athletes stop caring about what the consequences may be, how the media will spin their comments and whether or not their pocketbook will be affected.

When the conservative athletes choose to stop hiding, using the platform that they built for themselves through hard work and dedication to their art – then, and only then, will they find their voice again.

It’s time to speak up and be heard. It’s time to stand up and be seen.




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