For decades, NFL players have steered clear of political issues. And while there are signs that things are changing, change could come very, very slowly.
“[W]e are institutionalized sometimes,” Jets receiver Brandon Marshall explained last week in a visit to PFT Live. “We are. We’re told, “That’s not OK. You know, you can’t do that. It’s a distraction.’ And that’s a problem.”
The other problem, as Marshall sees it, comes from an apparent belief by the media that players should be willing at all times to share their private political beliefs, even if they don’t want to.
“Tom Brady got asked about his relationship with Donald Trump . . . and everyone gave him crap for it because he didn’t want to answer it,” Marshall said. “But what if I asked you right here on the show . . . ‘Hey, are you Democrat or Republican? Who did you vote for?’ That’s personal information. That’s like asking a woman her age, right? Like, you don’t go there. . . .
“But what did we do? We pressed Tom. We pressed Tom. We pressed Tom. They did the same thing with me like, ‘What are your views on Trump and who did you vote for?’ I’m not comfortable talking about that. Just because I talk about mental health and project375 and other things doesn’t mean that I have to give my opinion on something I may not be comfortable in or well-versed.”
That’s the other side of the coin that those who want athletes to express political views often overlook. Regardless of whether their teams or coaches encourage or discourage it, the athletes may simply not be interested in sharing their privately-held beliefs.
Still, those who would like to use their public platform for political purposes never should feel that they can’t, and as more players speak out without consequence (and there never should be a consequence), hopefully more will feel that they can, too.
However it plays out, it’s an issue that won’t be going away any time soon, especially with previously reticent players like Steph Curry and Russell Wilson choosing to speak out. And to the extent that any reticence to discuss personal views comes from an institutionalized aversion to “distraction,” maybe some players who currently prefer to keep their views to themselves will realize that they can speak without fear of reprisal.