The Plank

Should Athletes Talk Politics?

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I actually agree with Charles Pierce that LeBron James displayed real moral and political cowardice when he was one of only two Cleveland Cavaliers who failed to sign a teammate's angry open letter to the Chinese government about the genocide in Darfur.

But here's the thing: Pierce--who's a diehard Red Sox fan--routinely excoriates the team's star pitcher, Curt Schilling, for giving voice to his political views, which happen to be conservative and Republican, and therefore the opposite of Pierce's.

It's not that Pierce just disagrees with Schilling. He thinks Schilling--as a pro athlete--has no business talking politics. A couple years ago in Slate, for instance, Pierce blasted Schilling as a loudmouth, writing:

Remember, it was good old Schill who took it upon himself to write a "Letter to America" in the immediate wake of the 9/11 attacks, assuring us that baseball would be there to help us through our grief. (Who exactly it was that asked the question, "Gee, I wonder what aging right-handed stoppers think about all of this?" is apparently lost to history.). . . If Karl Rove were to design a baseball player, he'd come up with Curt Schilling.

And after the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004 and Schilling followed up the triumph by endorsing Bush's reelection campaign, Pierce griped in The Boston Globe:

I would like not to be bothered with the fact that it took Curt Schilling less than 48 hours to take the most glorious, unifying event in the city's history and coin it into cheap politics, so I will not be bothered with that.

And just a few months ago, again writing in The Boston Globe, Pierce complained, with regard to Schilling, about "The Media's insistence on quoting right-handed pitchers on subjects other than right-handed pitching."

And yet Pierce maintains we should be interested in--and, in fact, should pass judgment on--what a 22-year-old basketball phenom thinks (or doesn't think) about subjects other than being a 22-year-old basketball phenom?

Well, for what it's worth, I actually agree with Pierce about that. But if we're going to encourage--and perhaps even expect--pro athletes to speak out about politics, we shouldn't slam them for doing so when their politics don't happen to be our own. Disagree with them on the merits of theirs, but don't attack them for voicing them.

P.S. And, just in case you missed it from a few weeks back, here's one of the best--and most entertaining--political discussions involving an athlete that I've ever encountered: our own Isaac Chotiner's interview with Charles Barkley (D-AL).

--Jason Zengerle

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