As athletes across America continue to earn more power in their respective leagues and pursue off-the-field influence, the relationship between politics and sports has evolved.
Golfer Phil Mikelson’s move to Saudi-backed LIV Golf in 2022 raised eyebrows given Saudi Arabia’s history of human rights abuses. During an interview on ‘Life, Liberty & Levin,’ ESPN host Stephen Smith used Mikelson’s decision to make the case that there exists a hypocritical double standard in sports.
“It’s far easier to hold somebody like Phil Mickelson, Gary Player or other folks accountable. But our government does business with these people,” Smith told Fox Newss host Mark Levin. “If you’re so abhorred, and you find it so reprehensible to do business with these countries as individuals, then why are we not holding our government to the same level of accountability?”
Fox News contributor Andy McCarthy responded to Smith’s argument on ‘The Big Sunday Show.’
“Governments have to deal with each other in the world, and I don’t think it makes sense to equate governments with how people deal with these regimes now. I think it’s a totally fair criticism that our government has done, made terrible decisions,” McCarthy said. “But athletes, just like everybody else, if they’re going to speak publicly, they should be educated about what they’re speaking about.”
Many have argued that they don’t want to see politics mixed into sports. On the other hand, many argue that athletes, who play a large role in shaping American pop culture, have a responsibility to use the platforms afforded to them.
McCarthy’s co-host, Johnny ‘Joey’ Jones, spoke to the latter.
“If you’re a viewer sitting at home, and you’re not saying anything, or you’re not upset with some of the things you see on the headlines at Fox News or CNN, but you’re really mad at Phil Mickelson, then maybe you need to have a broader view of how the world works and understand that there are things like this happening all over. I think that ultimately sports does not need to rid itself of politics,” Jones said.
Mikelson isn’t the only athlete to come under fire. Lebron James and players across the NBA have been slammed for refusing to be more critical about the league’s relationship with China. James, in particular, has been outspoken about race issues plaguing America.
“I have no problem with athletes engaging with the foreign countries as long as it’s okay legally. But I do have a problem when athletes take advantage of the opportunity they have in America while going overseas or on American soil, tearing down the very country that gives them the freedom to make millions or hundreds of millions of dollars in their field,” cohost Katie Pavlich added.
Some athletes continue to speak out over global injustices – and continue to face the consequences. Former NBA center Enes Kanter Freedom, who has called out Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, revealed that the Turkish government recently placed a $500,000 bounty on his capture.
However, Smith said the influence of athletes is too large for them to stay silent on the sidelines.
“With today’s modern-day athlete, the money that is put out there, the relationships that are cultivated between them and advertisers and sponsors, then they certainly have a right to speak on the state of affairs in our society,” Smith said. “They just need to know what they’re talking about, and they need to be fair-minded when they do so.”