Are Sports Political?

We have all heard someone say it at one point or another. Sometimes, it’s when their kid doesn’t get any playing time, and the parents want something to blame. Sometimes, it’s when a call is made by a referee that is highly challenged and makes half of the gym rage with anger. Sometimes, it’s true. “Sports are political.”

Sports have a history of being linked with politics, and political gestures. Max Weber wrote “Politics as a Vocation” during the after effects of WWI on Germany and the Bymar Republic. At this time, Germany was experimenting with democratic sorts of governments, whether it be living for the government, or living from the government. Merriam-Webster defines “vocation” as a summons or strong inclination to a particular state or course of action. Behind all political decisions is the possibility of force. So, we come across a question. What makes a good politician? Well, often three things are looked at:

  1. Judgement – This is not sterile excitement (rather, excited about an issue). It is commitment.
  2. Passion  – This is not sterile excitement (means-ends rationality). It is the ability to be strategic.
  3. Responsibility – This has no good intentions. There is concern for the future and what comes next.

With a good politician comes political ethics. First of all, the ethics of conviction (what Weber does not want in a politician). These are absolute and act-oriented (ex. “under no circumstances will I do…”). On the other hand, however, are the ethics of responsibility (what Weber wants  in a politician). This focuses on being flexible and future-oriented.

Many athletes have learned to us their athletic platform to take political stances. For example, NFL quarterback Tim Tebow uses his platform to express his faith and love for God. While he was a collegiate football quarterback, he would paint bible verses on his face. When he reached the NFL, however, they did not give him this freedom.


In an article called All Sports Is Political:The Dave Zirin Interview, Dave Zirin (one of the most famous sports writers in the world of sports) spoke on sports and politics. His views on the mix of the two are very different than most sportswriters. “I think there are many cases where owners and head coaches make it clear that politics are divisive in the locker room, it undermines the idea of team, and that sports and politics should not mix. Also, in much of the mainstream sports media, the message is often contradictory. [The media] tend to decry the modern athlete who just says “We play one game at a time,” because that athlete doesn’t give them good copy, but they’re also the first to jump on an athlete if they dare say anything political or out of the mainstream. Now not every sportswriter does this by any stretch, but that is the general overriding ethos.”

Sports are more often than not related to politics, whether it is something Weber would agree with or not.

Illegitimate Burma

In Politics as a Vacation Weber says, “we must say that the state is a form of human community that (successfully) lays claim to the monopoly of legitimate physical violence within a particular territory” (Weber).

Now, I agree that a state uses physical violence or force within its territory to achieve its goals. There are times when this use of force is necessary to keep peace and done in the most ideal way, therefore legitimate. However, more often than not the use of force is abused and used under illegitimate circumstances. This can lead to power struggles, internal conflict, and an increasing use of illegitimate violence. I think the conflict in Burma is a great example of how the power of force can be abused.

Monks protest military coup in Burma

Monks protest military coup in Burma

The Burma conflict began when a military coup took power over the government and began to implement its own rules and values. If you didn’t obey them, you were harshly punished. Although protest have been going on for many years, they did not receive international attention until the 2007 Saffron protest. An article about the Saffron Protests said, “the monks began large peaceful demonstrations all over Burma after the junta raised gas and diesel oil prices by 500%”. While the monks were completely non-violent, the government began to imprison any protesters. In the same article it was estimated that “between 3,000 and 4,000 citizens were detained in connection with these protests”. Here is a video that discusses the Saffron protest and the violence these peaceful protest received.

Civil rights protest

Civil rights protest

This incident in Burma reminded me of our civil rights struggles in the 60’s. While the African Americans were strictly non-violent protests, our government and people in charge, used what they thought was “legitimate” physical violence to discriminate and hurt innocent citizens. This is an almost identical situation to that of Burma. The difference being that our government has not been run by a military coup. However, both protest were peaceful and non-violent, and both were put down by imprisonment and harsh, violent responses. This is why I believe giving a state or individual the power to use violence will always lead to corruption. Weber also states that, “whoever is active in politics strives for power” (Weber).  No matter what a government is trying to accomplish using violence, people are still going to be hurt and many times killed.

This has been proven over and over again. If the individuals calling the shots are always striving for power as Weber suggest they will be influenced to abuse that power and make selfish, unnecessary choices, which the military in Burma did and the United States did during the civil rights protests.

Finding Leadership in Politics

Max Weber

Max Weber

Max Weber’s considerations on what makes a “good politician” raise several questions about the difference between the politician and the leader. Sadly, I fear that the way our society categorizes those whom we put in power is dangerously lacking in the essence of leadership. Should we actually consider personal political vocation as a logical reason for civil-servants to entertain politics, or rather that they are there as an extension of our voice in government? If we as a society continue in our depersonalization of the individuals we elect to office we are inherently removing their status as a leader of the people and creating a self-servant, who according to Weber, requires only, “passionate devotion to a ’cause'”, in order to be sufficient to their constituents. In my Organizational Studies 201 course, which highlights the many facets of leadership, I’ve begun to craft a new idea of what political leaders should embody, which will hopefully help us relocate the Leadership in Politics.

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