Jalen Rose says the barrier between sports and politics is breaking down, and it’s a sign of progress

Jalen Rose at an awards show in 2015. Ethan Miller/BET/Getty Images
  • Jalen Rose said it’s a sign of progress that athletes are no longer going to “stick to sports.”
  • Rose said sports and politics have become more intertwined because “politics started to ingratiate itself in sports.”
  • Rose said athletes getting involved in activism shows they are human and not just entertainers.
  • In a politically charged time, Rose said athletes can put away political differences during games, but away from their sport, they want to focus on making changes.
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Jalen Rose has heard the gripes about sports becoming too political and shuns them.

To Rose, the ESPN analyst, and former NBA player, sports and politics becoming increasingly intertwined — inescapably so, to critics — has been a natural progression.

NBA players kneel during the national anthem. Ashley Landis/Pool Photo via USA TODAY Sports

Across major American sports leagues, players have taken time to share messages of social justice reform. “Black Lives Matter” has been written on basketball courts and football fields. Players have kneeled during the national anthem to protest police brutality.

In May, NASCAR banned the Confederate flag from races.

On major sports networks like ESPN, air time has been devoted to political subjects. Recently, Rose called for justice for Breonna Taylor as ESPN went to commercial during halftime of an NBA playoff game.

(Of course, the degree to which any of these things are “political” is another discussion).

“I think the overall change happened when politics started to ingratiate itself in sports, not necessarily the other way around,” Rose told Insider while promoting his new multi-media partnership with the New York Post.

“In particular, when our president happens to be tweeting his opinion about what he thinks about NFL players who take a knee. So now that becomes a sports topic. Or when you see different athletes giving endorsements. Or even like [during the first presidential debate between President Donald Trump and Joe Biden], when you hear that, ‘I’m the reason that football is going to be played.’ Now that becomes a sports topic.”

Rose said the notion that athletes should “stick to sports” undermines their humanity.

“It’s the same thing I saw these past four years with, ‘Stick to sports,’ ‘Shut up and dribble.’ Then you realise that, wait a minute, what you’re really saying is that you don’t care about my humanity, equality, or equal rights,” Rose said. “You just want me to entertain.”

Rose said it’s on sports leagues and the athlete to send the message: “We’re going to give you the sport that you love, that we love. We want to entertain the people and take care of our families and earn top dollar playing the sport. We want to do that. And we want you guys to be happy with the product that you see during the game. But before we get to the game, let’s talk about what’s happening in humanity, because we’re men and women first.”

Nonetheless, Rose said social justice messages are gradually being accepted because sports are such a valued part of society.

“When Colin Kaepernick was ostracised from the NFL and basically not allowed to further his career based on his peaceful protest, he was not acknowledged by the NFL. But a few years later, Roger Goodell actually apologizes for not allowing players to express themselves, and [the NFL] felt like basically, they should have handled it different.”

He added: “I applaud the NBA for putting ‘Black Lives Matter’ on the floor and the 29 messages on the back of players jerseys while they’re currently competing in the bubble. And so the progress that has happened in society has now also became one that has allowed corporate America, mainstream America, to adjust accordingly.”

The dynamics are changing within sports, too

A principle has long existed in sports locker rooms:

“Once the game starts, if you can help us win, I don’t care about your political beliefs,” Rose said.

Drew brees
Drew Brees was criticised by teammates for his comments on the national anthem. Brian Blanco/AP Images

Insider asked Rose if locker room dynamics have changed during such a politically charged time. Rose said what has changed is what happens away from the field or court. He pointed to Drew Brees’ comments in June that he found it disrespectful to kneel for the national anthem.

“We saw quickly how a couple of his teammates were to go to social media and to denounce what he was saying,” Rose said. “And so that’s what it would be. While the game is happening, you know — high-fives, back slaps, let’s do what we can to win. But when the game isn’t happening, then freedom of speech and expression will apply.”

Given the politically charged moment we’re living in, Rose praised athletes’ abilities to compartmentalise focusing on their sport and their activism, particularly the NBA players who sat out of playoff games to protest the police shooting of Jacob Blake.

“We hold athletes more accountable than the politicians,” Rose said. “So for them to make that sacrifice, to try to make society better while still trying to deliver the ending to a regular season of eight games, four rounds of the playoffs that have been uninterrupted. and an NBA champion, I give the utmost kudos to Adam Silver, Michele Roberts, Chris Paul, the president of the player’ union, and each one of those players.

“When LeBron wins the championship this year, he’s going to show us a duality. Because as an athlete, sometimes it’s, ‘Why aren’t you practicing your game?’ ‘What do you mean Michael Jordan is shooting Space Jam.?’ ‘Why don’t you work?’ LeBron is proving that you could be a social justice warrior, start More Than a Vote, he’ll let your voice be heard, and still keep your eyes on the prize and win the championship.”