Athletes in North America have been told time after time to be extremely careful with what they say or tweet. Whether it is about personal beliefs or team matters, one thing is for sure and that is team owners do not want their players to get mixed up in the politics and sport. When a professional athlete makes a public statement about a political matter, they open both themselves and their team up to potential criticism. This almost always leads to negative publicity as things tend to get blown out of proportion by both the media and the general public. Take for example, the case of Pittsburgh Steeler running back Rashad Mendenhall. One of the most controversial tweets in North American sports history was made by Mendenhall on May 2, 2011. After Saddam Husein was killed, Mendenhall made the mistake of expressing his opinion. His tweet read, “What kind of person celebrates death? It’s amazing how people can HATE a man they have never even heard speak. We’ve only heard one side. We’ll never know what really happened. I just have a hard time believing a plane could take a skyscraper down demolition style”. What happens to these players when they do get mixed up in politics? Generally in North American sports, the athlete may have to meet with the commissioner of the league and a small fine is given. In Mendenhall’s case, he received nationwide scrutiny and was asked to remove his tweet. Not too bad for all the controversy it caused. In other countries, Mendenhall may have been in real trouble. I was shocked to read about the case of two Middle Eastern athletes who made their political beliefs known.
On February 14, 2012, hundreds of thousands of people poured into the Bahraini streets demanding democracy and economic justice. Amongst the protestors were two brothers, soccer stars, A’ala Hubail and Mohamed Hubail. Unlike other athletes in Bahraini who were told to stay away from the demonstrations, A’ala and Mohamed both believed in the cause and wanted to help make a difference. Their involvement would soon lead to the end of both their fantastic soccer careers. Once the royal family was informed of their participation in the protest, the brothers were expelled from the national soccer squad and subsequently arrested. Both men were severely tortured and beaten in prison.
It is clear that when you express your opinion regarding a political matter, you should be ready to receive criticism. With today’s media conscious world, athletes put themselves and teammates in potentially harmful and even life threatening situations when they make their opinions known. Perhaps it is better for all professional athletes to keep their political beliefs to themselves. In a world of facebook, twitter, and instagram, athletes should recognize the harmful consequences of expressing political views. Difficult as it may be, it is something they have to think about for their own safety as well as that of their family and organization.
Zirin, Dave. (2013). Game Over. New York: The New Press.