Editor’s note : It is part of a six-part series that shows how professional sports owners in the United States contribute to political campaigns, why they spend millions in space, and what this financial strength means when athletes remain active in their own sports campaigns.
The little people were confronted with a solution. They just paid $365 million to one of the most famous stars of baseball, Mookie Betts. And now their star has changed his position after he pronounced his indecisiveness to kneel in 2016 because of his father’s military service in Vietnam by playing the national anthem.
I wasn’t educated, Betts told me in July why his position had changed. It’s all my fault. I need to be clear about the situation. I know my father served, and I will never neglect the flag, but the world must change too, and falling to my knees has nothing to do with those who served our country.
How would the team react?
The organization supported its public and targeted transition to politics, which was not an easy choice for sports franchising. Image, proverb – that’s it, and companies have long been concerned about alienating customers. However, the Dodger movement, like many other similar efforts in the sports industry in 2020, seems to indicate that important philosophical changes are coming directly from the top of these organizations.
Not so much, one by one: Donations from campaigners to politicians and parties can conflict with public statements and the actions of the teams that own them. According to an ESPN study of publicly available donation records conducted by the Federal Election Commission, American sports teams have tended to support Republican politicians vis-à-vis their democratic counterparts since 2015.
If you look closely, the owners of the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL and NASCAR have given much more money to the Republican Party than the Democrats over the past two years. Of these leagues, the owners of the NBA – the league most often at the centre of discussions on their public messages – actually made the second largest contribution to the OMP ($8.4 million), behind the MLB ($15.1 million).
The WNBA, a competition at the forefront of public activity in American professional sport, is a perfect example of perception versus reality. The league is the only one of the six leagues in the ESPN study to have a liberal bias, albeit a weak one, with owners sending $1,634,153 (51.7%) for purely democratic purposes, compared to $1,338,459 (42.3%) to Republicans. Conservative contributions to the competition as a whole come mainly from one source – co-owner Atlanta Dream and American Senator Kelly Loffler (R-Georgia). It accounts for more than 65 percent of WNBA owners’ OMP donations. (WNBA players wore T-shirts with the words Vote for Warnock to support Rafael Warnock, one of Loffler’s opponents in the 2020 Senate election).
There seems to be no connection between the image of the competition and the politics of its owners, or at least its political spending plans, according to political scientist Professor Davis Ethan Scheiner, who investigates the crossroads of sport and politics. This pattern of miscommunication between image and politics is widespread in the business world.
Fault! The file name is not specified. Kiri Irving asked before the restart of the NBA if the game would divert attention from the social justice movement. AP Photo/Charles Krupa
While the NBA has picked up the Black Lives Matter movement more than the other four major men’s sports divisions, the league’s audience is also different from that of the NFL, MLB or NHL. In the midst of the social unrest in the country, public support has been strong.
Nielsen’s July study showed growing support for the black life among American sports fans: 83% of NBA fans, 81% of NHL fans, 80% of MLB fans and 78% of NHL fans supported the role of athletes in raising awareness of racial injustice. In addition, 76 percent of NBA fans, 72 percent of NHL fans, 69 percent of MLB fans and 66 percent of NHL fans supported the Black Lives Matter movement at that time.
Professional athletes, for example, contribute to political campaigns, why they spend millions and what this financial strength means.
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Richard Lapchik, director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida and a human rights activist who has worked at the crossroads of sport and race since the 1970s, said there is significant support for the activities of athletes and teams that support their athletes and the public, even if they want their brands to address social justice issues. From a business point of view, reading these things is also a good thing to do what I would call it.
It’s easier to make the right choice if the problems are popular with a wide range of business people, and even easier if the problems affect a significant portion of the main crowd of fans.
According to a study by Morning Consult in September 2020, the NBA has the highest percentage of black and Spanish fans with 27% and 23% respectively. In addition, the highest percentage of supporters among the four major men’s sports leagues is 42 percent, compared to 38 percent in the NFL and MLB and 36 percent in the NHL.
Moreover, 58% of sports enthusiasts believe that brands contribute to the fight against racism, according to a study by Kantar in October. And 51% of the population feels the same.
But before the NBA starts again, Brooklyn Nets security guard Kiri Irving asked if the bubble game would divert attention from the social justice movement across the country. This early skepticism from Irving and other players, including Dwight Howard and Avery Bradley, helped the NBA make financial commitments that go beyond colouring the Black Lives Matter on the pitch and eradicating the social justice sentences on the back of the T-shirts.
In August, the NBA Board of Directors and the NBPA signed an agreement to provide $300 million to the black community over the next ten years, with each team donating $1 million. However, striker André Igudala wondered if this competition support doesn’t come down to marketing to the most important supporters.
In an interview prior to the match three of the 2020 NBA finals, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver misrepresented expectations that such activities would continue next season: With regard to the messages you see on our t-shirts on the pitch, I would say that it was an unusual moment when we started talking to the players and what we experienced this summer.
I feel like there’s some kind of return to normal. Silver went on to say that most of these messages would be delivered from the hemicycle. And I get people saying I’m on your side, but I want to watch basketball.
The change in the discourse also indicates that the enthusiasm of the audience is declining. According to a survey held in Kantar in October, the number of athletes who consider themselves supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement has dropped to 60%.
Harry Edwards, Honorary Professor of Sociology at the University of California at Berkeley and mentor to Colin Kepernick, said fans don’t largely support a sports franchise based on political tendencies to own the team. When business activist messages no longer make sense to support supporters, owners have little incentive to pursue policies that are inconsistent with their own.
Mr. Edwards said: Part of the structuring of the agreement was based on what the owners said: Okay, look, we’ll make you wear T-shirts. We’ll let you make your statements. We will support you, even without playing the first game, and we will organize meetings and town hall meetings. We’re even going to open pavilions for registration and voting and so on. But in return, you play this season as planned.
Ten days after the murder of George Floyd, NFL stars including Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomez, quarterback Ezekiel Elliot, Cleveland Brown wide receiver Odell Beckam Jr. and Texas Deshawn Watson quarterback shot a video asking the league to listen to their players.
– 5. Sterling Shepherd (@sterl_shep3) June 2020.
On behalf of the National Football League we, the football players, would like to hear your explanation, said the players on the videotape. The National Football Federation condemns racism and the systematic oppression of blacks. We, the National Football League, admit that it was wrong to silence our players for peaceful demonstrations. We, the National Football League, believe that the lives of black people play a role.
A day later, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell posted a video on Twitter in which he said: We in the NFL recognize that it was wrong not to listen to NFL players before, and call on everyone to voice their opinions and protest peacefully. We at the NFL believe in the lives of black people.
Faced with player pressure and a changing social landscape, Goodell later told ESPN that he had asked the teams to sign a contract with free quarterback Colin Kepernick. No team took it.
I think we as a society have listened to the athletes. Laptschik said it’s always been like individual voices, and there are individual voices. Now that the athletes act as a group, they have a stronger voice than a leader, like any other group that forms.
Prior to the start of the season, the NFL announced that it would draw it all of us and End Racism in each team’s end zone. The League also announced that it would play Every Voice Raise and Sing – known as the Black National Anthem – for the weekend games, while supporting the players’ right to protest freely, a remarkable change from the days of Kepernicus. After decades of debate about the name of the soccer team in Washington, the team has adopted its new nickname.
The most important factor in determining the extent to which the leagues will take a particular position is definitely the explanation, Shaner said.
But it didn’t change the way the owners made their donations. In 2020, NFL owners donated more than $1.2 million to national campaigns. Six owners of all sports – Ken Kendrick (Diamondbacks), Dan Gilbert (Riders), Mickey Heat, Josh Harris (76ers), Dan DeVos (Magic) and Charles Johnson (Giants) – jointly donated $26,000 to Senator Tom Cotton’s campaign in Arkansas or to support Republicans in this election cycle. In June, after the death of George Floyd, who was in police custody, Cotton called for a violent demonstration against the protesters.
At the same time, Texas Senator John Cornin questioned the idea of systematic racism in America. Corn is one of the most popular policies in the ESPN database. In the last two election cycles, 15 homeowners have directly or indirectly donated more than $340,000 to his campaigns. The list includes Charles and Greg Johnson, Clark Hunt, Edward Roski, Jimmy and Susan Haslam, John Stanton, Josh Harris, Kelly Lawffler, Ken Kendrick, Mickey Arison, Philip Anschutz, Ray Davis, Stephen Ross and Tilman Fertitta.
According to Edwards, the group approach behind the recent athlete activation has forced the leagues and the owners to at least accept the players’ requests. Instead of a single target of criticism such as Kaepernick, many star players are pulling together in the fight against racial injustice and police violence.
When owners and leagues begin to reduce public support, it is easy to create a sense of progressivity in meeting their public obligations. The pressure exerted jointly by the athletes in recent months will become more and more important.
These athletes now understand that they can demand a seat at the table, Edwards said. When you demand a seat at the table, it’s not a question of leaning against the back wall. It’s not about adding an extra chair in the room. Somebody’s gotta get up! Whoever had influence and power, whoever determined these things, must stand up.
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