I’m an escape. Or at least the content I create is supposed to be one. I try to remember that when I’m writing columns about coaches, athletes, sports, games and the people involved in them.
I don’t write about war.
I can’t do a thing about inflation.
I’m not holding a jackhammer for a living.
When people come to this column or my radio show, I know they’re looking for a break. From a bad boss? A tough day at work? Taxes? Sick kids?
I’ve reminded interns and producers who work on the statewide radio show I host, “Listeners do not care if you’re tired.” Nobody wants to tune in and hear about a poor night of sleep, an aching shoulder or a broken-down car. They’re there to smile, think, and feel.
I have political views. I doubt you’re interested in them. I vote and I care — and I hope you do, too. But like a lot of you I grew exhausted during the pandemic when the sports landscape was infiltrated by voices who worked relentlessly to get their politics in front of you.
It struck me in the last couple of years, as the algorithms spun on social media, that America’s sports venues were one of the last places where people with dissenting political stances gathered and cheered, side-by-side — for something else.
The 2022 NBA Finals ratings are up more than 20 percent. Some of that may be due to a great Celtics-Warriors matchup. But I suspect part of the boost is a wave of fans who desperately need an escape from a world that feels troubled and squeezed economically.
I’m not just a sports columnist and radio show host. I’m a husband, father to three girls, a brother, neighbor, friend and son. I have social views. I’m worried about violence and the safety of our schools, for example. I think we ought to treat youth sports umpires better and pay teachers more. I am troubled by the loss of civility in society, loathe rude people and I worry that we’re not doing a good job of building resilience in our children.
Is it possible for me to express social viewpoints without them being perceived as political? Or are they immeshed in the minds of most people?
I wrestle with that daily.
I wrote a column about my mother on Mother’s Day. I’ve written over the years about my father, wife and children, too. I expressed discomfort with the LIV Tour setting up shop in our region. But I try to avoid hitting you over the head with a political viewpoint because I fashion this column to be sort of like a sandy, sunny, secluded beach. It’s your mini-vacation. Some days we may find ourselves immersed in a sobering topic but my aim isn’t political.
I have a fun, heartfelt Father’s Day piece scheduled for Sunday. I’ve been working on it for weeks. I am certain it will make you smile and maybe help you celebrate your own dad. I also have a deeper investigative piece coming down the pipeline. And I’m very close to publishing a wild tale about a convicted felon who is impersonating a former NFL player.
I saw this week that The Athletic instituted a “No Politics” policy among its staff. The subscription-based platform was acquired by The New York Times in January. The new policy is being met with criticism, but I think it’s the right call.
The Athletic’s Chief Content Officer, Paul Fichtenbaum, told staffers: “We don’t want to stop people from having a voice and raising their voice for appropriate issues. But there comes a point where something that is a straightforward, ‘Hey, I’m concerned about guns in America,’ for instance… that’s an apolitical statement. It becomes political when you say, ‘I’m concerned about guns in America and this political party is the reason why we’re having an issue,’ right?
“That’s when it tips over.”
Is he right?
There are certainly some tricky areas. For example, when athletes protest a political decision or decide to retire and run for office, what do you do? You cover it, if it’s newsworthy. I’ve had a shift of mindset in the last decade. I used to bristle when people told me, “Stick to sports.” Now, I understand that what they’re really saying is, “Man, what happened to my escape?”
It’s right here.
Thank you for reading. I appreciate all who have supported, subscribed and shared my new independent endeavor with friends and family in recent months. If you haven’t already — please consider subscribing.
I live and die with OSU sports. I attended the final game of the OSU/Auburn series. I was sitting near a couple from Auburn and offered, "Welcome to Oregon" and we chatted about the rain. I would bet an awful lot of my money that we don't share the same political viewpoint. Who cares? They were visitors to my beloved home state and I wanted them to feel welcomed. We were at a GAME. Auburn's very big, very talented 1st baseman injured his leg rounding 2nd base at one point. I thought, oh no, here come the cat calls directed at a very big kid. Silence and then a very genuine round of applause as he resumed his place on 3rd base. You could see that over the 3 games, the 2 teams had developed great respect for one another. It was incredibly refreshing to see. The game was an escape. I left very disappointed with the outcome. I didn't leave angry.
Hopefully The Athletics' new policy is a sign of the tide turning. Americans are divided on so many issues, but sports have long been the rare exception where a whole region will come together and unite and route for the same outcome without regard for race, sexuality, religion, political ideology, etc. Sporting events are a rare opportunity for us to disconnect for a few hours from the strain and worry of the outside world. The last five minutes of a close Blazer game no one cares about what is happening on Twitter, or checking the CNN or FoxNews headlines; instead 20,000 people from all walks of life are united and pulling for one outcome. When Lillard hits that game winning three sending the crowd into pandemonium and you start high-fiving everyone you don't care if they have blue hair or if they're shirt says "don't tread on me." In a world where it seems like everything is twisted and sensationalized in order to get us angry and divided, sports is an escape. An escape worth fighting for.