Sports can’t save us from the division in our nation

Detroit Free Press

One person says: The Big Ten did the right thing and canceled its football season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Another person says: It was freakin’ idiotic. High school football teams across Michigan are about to start their season, so why can’t the Big Ten? How does that make sense?

One person says: Why couldn’t the Big Ten wait to make a decision?

Another person says: Why did the Big Ten wait so long to cancel?

Back and forth they go.

One person says: I’m so proud of professional athletes for using their platforms to raise awareness about social injustices.

Another person says: I watch sports for entertainment. For an escape. I’m tired of seeing all of these political statements.

One person says: And Black people are tired of getting shot, just for being Black.

Another person says: If an NFL player takes a knee, I’m done; and I’m sick of being told to wear a mask.

One person says: Look at the science. Look at the numbers.

Another person says: Yes, please, show me the numbers.

One person says: President Trump is to blame for all of this. He failed miserably in how he handled this pandemic, refusing to create a nationwide plan. He has divided our country.

Another person says: The coronavirus came from China, so how can you blame him? And Trump did not create racism.

One person says: No, he just flames it.

Then, all the rhetoric heats up: Trump weighs in on Twitter urging the Big Ten to bring back football, and Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh is marching through campus in Ann Arbor, arguing against his own university president, in essence, and you turn the channel and they are playing baseball with no fans, and the NBA and NHL are in a bubble. …

And me?

I’m exhausted. Covering sports in a pandemic, during a time of heated social unrest, when facts are twisted and truth seems elusive if not impossible to find, and nobody trusts anybody, and your friend from high school — the one who didn’t take a single science class — suddenly has a strong opinion about public health, and everybody is screaming all the time, and all of that noise, all of that nonsense can leave your head spinning.

Not your normal Opening Day

Sports, politics, social unrest and the pandemic — it is the story of this strange year.

For me, it all came together July 24 in one wild night — the Tigers’ Opening Day at the Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati.

The walk to the stadium was surreal. There was no traffic. No excitement. Before I could enter the ballpark, my temperature was taken and I had to sign a form stating that I didn’t have any coronavirus symptoms and had not been around anyone with COVID-19.

I was assigned a workplace in the upper deck, down the right-field line. They wanted to keep Detroit writers away from the Cincinnati writers, so they converted a lounge into an auxiliary press box.

Everybody was required to wear a mask. Many press boxes are jam-packed during normal times, but nothing about this was normal. Everybody was given their own table. I looked down at the field and a black ribbon stretched along the first-base line, curved around home plate and continued down the third-base line.

During a pregame ceremony, all of the Tigers — the players and coaches — knelt on the grass, holding a black cloth. The Tigers wore two patches on their right sleeves: “Black Lives Matter” and “United for Change.”

Everybody was wearing masks and they were spaced out for social distancing.

When the national anthem began, most of the Tigers stood, but five players and a coach remained kneeling, trying to raise awareness about social injustices, trying to make America better.

Now, two months later, nothing about this scene is surprising.

Not after the Detroit Lions canceled a practice to protest the death of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

And not after the NBA shut down its playoffs for a few days out of protest.

But back on the Tigers’ opener, it felt surreal.

Almost instantly, I got emails.

One person wrote to me: “This was the final blow between me and my life long love for the Detroit Tigers. To show this disrespect to our nation and flag is sinful!”

The players were quick to retort: It wasn’t about disrespecting the flag.

Everyone’s an expert

Should the Big Ten be playing football right now?

Is it crazy for high school football to be played during a pandemic?

I don’t know the answer. I’m not a scientist and trying to decide whether they should play amateur contact sports in a pandemic is way out of my lane. Far too many people are spouting things they just don’t know.

But I do know how I feel. My stomach churns every time I see a college football game on TV. I’m sad on a personal level because my son plays college football at Johns Hopkins and his season was postponed until the spring because of the pandemic.

Should they have canceled the season when other teams are seemingly making it work?

Johns Hopkins has some of the best public health experts in the world. I trust them. I trust the science. I trust they are making the right decision for the kids. They shut down the campus and are holding classes online.

But still, it makes me sad. I should be in Baltimore this Saturday afternoon, in full dad mode, wearing a replica of my son’s jersey, tailgating and then watching him play his junior season.

But he might play in the spring.

Or maybe not.

‘This is not OK’

Maybe, you don’t want any of this in your sports world. But it’s impossible to ignore. Emotions are at a boiling point.

ESPN announcer Kirk Herbstreit broke down while talking about social injustices during the first “College GameDay” of the season.

“The Black community is hurting,” Herbstreit said while crying on camera. “How do you listen to these stories and not feel pain and not want to help? You can’t relate to that if you’re white, but you can listen and you can try to help because this is not OK.”

No, it’s not OK.

And that is why these protests continue in the sports world, and in the streets.

I fully support the protests against social injustices and I applaud the athletes for using their platforms.

But it is time to pivot from raising awareness to the next step.

Instead of kneeling during the national anthem, I wish athletes would unfurl a banner with a list of demands.

Instead of wearing jerseys with slogans on their backs, maybe NBA players could put demands on their jerseys. Maybe, they could print something on the court.

In many ways, the Baltimore Ravens did it right, releasing a powerful statement late last month: “This is bigger than sports. Racism is embedded in the fabric of our nation’s foundation and is a blemish on our country’s history. If we are to change course and make our world a better place, we must face this problem head-on and act now to enact positive change.

“It is time to accept accountability and acknowledge the ramifications of slavery and racial injustice.”

But the Ravens took it a step further, listing a series of steps that should be taken:

• Arrest and charge the police officers responsible for Breonna Taylor’s killing and the shooting of Jacob Blake.

• Demand that Sen. Mitch McConnell bring the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020 to the Senate floor for a vote.

• End qualified immunity; require body cameras; ban chokeholds and no-knock warrants; hold police accountable in court; establish a framework to prohibit racial profiling at federal, state and local levels

• Support state- and federally mandated CALEA Accreditation and national standards of care in policing.

• Encourage everyone to engage in the political process by registering to vote on both the local and national level. (

• Demand prison sentencing reform that is fair and equitable.

• Encourage every citizen to act with respect and compliance when engaging with the police. If you feel there has been an abuse of power, we encourage you to contact your police department’s internal affairs unit.”

One person says: Hallelujah. Let’s make changes.

Another person says: Enough already! Just shut up and go play football.

One person says: Why does it matter? This baseball season doesn’t mean anything. Sixty games is a joke. And this college football season is a farce.

Another person says: But at least it’s something. I just need a distraction.

Back and forth they go, everybody is screaming, everybody seems mad, everybody is pushed to the brink, and it’s exhausting. All of the noise. All the confusion.

But sadly, I’m not sure anybody is listening.

Contact Jeff Seidel: Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to

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