Star boxer Manny Pacquiao is making headlines this week for his controversial statements regarding President Obama’s recent coming-out in support of gay marriage.
“God only expects man and woman to be together and to be legally married, only if they are in love with each other,” Pacquaio told the National Conservative Examiner.
The six-time world champion went on cite the examples of Sodom and Gomorrah and quote the passage in the book of Leviticus that outlaws homosexual behavior.
Whether anyone will really listen to Pacquiao — who has a colorful history of erratic behavior, including cockfighting charges and gambling problems — remains to be seen. One thing is for sure, though: This isn’t a new phenomenon.
At Georgetown University, there is a 300-level international affairs class called “Sports, Politics and Cultural Diplomacy.”
At first glance, this might seem like a bizarre, unique class tailored to the legions of basketball-obsessed foreign policy wonks that make up Georgetown. But in fact, sports and politics cross over into each others’ realms relatively often.
One needs only to look back a few decades to find an example of how powerful these interactions can be. In the 1970s, the Nixon administration used ping-pong to reach out to China, then a budding global power that had just begun to open its doors to the outside world.
“Ping-pong diplomacy” was largely successful in developing early ties between the two nations that now constitute the world’s only superpowers.
Then, of course, there’s everyone’s favorite sporting event with political undertones: 1980’s “Miracle on Ice,” in which the U.S. national ice hockey team knocked off the highly favored USSR squad in an Olympic game. The U.S. went on to win the gold medal that year, marking an important symbolic victory for a nation embroiled in the Cold War.
But perhaps the most interesting way sports and politics interact is when athletes use their prominent status within a society to advocate for political causes.
In the 1968 Olympics, American track stars Tommie Smith and John Carlos took first and third place, respectively, in the 200-meter dash. They then raised their fists in “black power” salutes while atop the medal stand, a controversial gesture that is viewed as one of the great lasting symbols of the civil rights movement.
Many athletes today seem to be wary of advocating especially controversial political positions for fear of alienating fans. But that hasn’t stopped some from making their voices heard. Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas refused to join his Stanley Cup-winning team on their trip to the White House earlier this year, citing personal disagreement with Obama’s political agenda.
“I believe the Federal government has grown out of control, threatening the Rights, Liberties, and Property of the People,” he said. “This is being done at the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial level. This is in direct opposition to the Constitution and the Founding Fathers vision for the Federal government.”
The announcement raised eyebrows in the hockey community, but Bruins president Cam Neely backed up his goalie’s right to make the decision, even though he didn’t agree.
Pacquiao’s protest is interesting in that most historical incidences of sports and politics interacting involve progressive causes — opening diplomatic ties, advocating for racial equality, etc. — and his position is decidedly conservative.
As athletes become more and more concerned with image and marketability, candid statements like Pacquiao’s and decisions like Thomas’ are likely to become more and more of a rarity.
So while you might not agree with the controversial boxer, appreciate his announcement.
In an era of cautiousness and marketability concerns, Pacquiao is keeping the tradition of political activism by athletes alive.
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